Visually impaired individuals often do not receive equal access to the education they pay for. The responsibility for this cannot be put onto any singular organization, institution, individual or policy; the law supposedly protects them from this, in fact. So what is stopping this from happening?
The issue of getting alternate format transcriptions of course materials are multifaceted. The professors don’t have time to create additional content for a single visually impaired student, and some even create content mere hours before a lecture; the accessibility department of the school is constrained by time in creating transcriptions of the material (it may be understaffed or non-existent, depending on public policy); both publicly and privately run institutions cannot keep up with the massive amount of incoming material requiring transcription.
So it is broken up into 3 parts: professors, accessibility departments and other institutions which produce accessible material.
Professors want the freedom to create new content for class the morning before the lecture, or to quickly update notes if there is a problem. It is a massive burden on their time to create a version of the course content which they know will be accessible to a student with disabilities. How could they know anyway? They could imagine wearing a blindfold, but most probably don’t know what a screen reader or a microcapsule diagram is, forget how to create them or make content which is compatible with them.
Even if a professor wanted to be 100 percent accommodating, they would need months of preparation and maybe even training.
So, not all the blame can be on them.
Accessibility departments (if they exist at all at the school) have limited resources and can’t transcribe advanced computer science diagrams on the fly in an accessible format while the lecture is happening, or even within 24 hours. There simply isn’t enough resources at every institution to handle every students’ needs when we’re talking about advanced computer science and engineering diagrams. The department likely doesn’t even know what the diagrams mean, so how are they supposed to transcribe it? They also can’t just hire an expert in every subject just in case a blind student needs diagrams in that course.
But, not all the blame can be on them either. The regional authorities probably don’t give them the money they need.
“There are other options!” they say, contact a public (or private) transcriber and they will get that done for you no problem. Will they though? By the time of, or 24 hours after the lecture? And do they have the expertise to be able to produce in the students’ preferred format, or only in one or two of the formats they can figure out how to produce it in? What if the student would prefer a webpage, like everyone else gets. Or what if they prefer a physical experience with tactile graphs and braille, can they produce that in time, or within 24 hours after the lecture. I bet not.
It’s not their fault, everyone is different and has different needs. But how is a producer of alternate format material supposed to keep up with all of that, and with multiple slide decks a week at a higher level of school… It sounds like a nightmare.
What if the professor’s diagrams and graphs could be accessible by default? What if every diagram a professor made, could be replicated instantly into any accessible format the student desires? What if this could all be done without intervention on the part of the accessibility department?
Enter, my solution (not sure what to call it yet). Upfront, there is one large downside: it requires the teacher to learn a new piece of software for creating diagrams, and depending on the age of the teacher and whether the institution requires it of them, it may have varying success. But that said, let’s imagine for a moment what this could bring.
Whenever a professor is creating something which is more advanced than a set of bullet points or illustrative images, they use this software to create the diagram. By default, it outputs as an image, which they can embed in their powerpoint/webpage with no issues. Now a blind student comes along and takes their course. All the diagrams are saved in the cloud, and can be given to the student like so:
- Find the class it’s for
- Click “Select All”
- Find a button saying “Export as…”
- Choose the student’s preferred format
Sure, in practice I’m sure it will be somewhat harder. There are occasionally times when it will be more difficult: maybe there is new content needs to be created or existing content needs to be edited, then the professor will need to remember to select and export the documents for each lecture individually. Or, maybe the student can just have access to the material for that course and whenever it’s updated, it’s updated! Instantly, for them, as well as with everyone else.
Accessibility departments can use this software to lightly tweak a few diagrams, which should only take a few minutes, as the original will generally be “ok”, but maybe not “great”. A manual touch-up allows experts in accessibility to make sure everything is produced properly if the automated software doesn’t get it completely correct the first time around.
Other public and private institutions could certainly benefit from this technology as well. It makes it easy to export into whichever medium the student prefers and provide alternates in the case that the students’ preferred format isn’t working out for one part of the course.
Finally, the student. If this is designed correctly, then a visually impaired student can also create these diagrams with multiple output formats. This enables them to respond to teachers with proper diagrams that they can see, to help another, maybe slightly more visually impaired student if need be, and above all: it gives them equal access to the world of advanced STEM diagrams.
This helps reduce barriers of blind individuals in STEM programs, and is an economic boon, with potentially extremely large growth: Every school in the world could potentially use this.
By removing the medium from data, the data can now be exported to any given format. This is good for blind, dyslexic, hearing & learning impaired students. It adds choice for those who maybe prefer text description over an image, or an image over a text description. It adds choice for those who prefer flashy colors, or are color-blind and need more greyscale. This creates choice and accessibility for just about every group I can think of.
It gives equal access to course material, and enables students of all kinds to create visual diagrams that both sides can read and understand.
“Build your [X] for people who have had it up to HERE with [X].” — Chelsea Troy