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News and Opinion

A roundup of news articles, journal articles, essays, opinion pieces, and other items of interest about accessibility and universal design for learning.

With life-changing condition, Williamsburg native looks to technology for sight | Williamsburg Yorktown Daily

Veronica Lewis was three years old when she was diagnosed with a life-changing condition.

Chiari Malformation is a structural defect of the skull and the brain. In Lewis’s case, it contributed to her poor eyesight. Now, 17 years after her initial diagnosis of vision impairment, Lewis is studying information technology at George Mason University with the dream of making technology more accessible to the disabled.

Her goal inspired the Redmond, Washington-based technology giant Microsoft to create a video featuring Lewis about assistive technology and their products.“

Technology doesn’t just make things easier, it makes things possible,” Lewis, a long-time Williamsburg resident, said.

Read more: With life-changing condition, Williamsburg native looks to technology for sight | Williamsburg Yorktown Daily

Education Department awards $42.5M grant to grow online library of accessible books

Benetech, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit, received a five-year, $42.5 million award from the U.S. Department of Education to expand and improve availability of free, accessible books for qualified students through an online library. Bookshare — one of Benetech’s global literacy projects — provides personalized access to over 800,000 titles to students with visual and reading impairments and currently serves approximately 500,000 students across the United States.

With this grant, Benetech plans to reach an additional 200,000 students through Bookshare and provide at least 4 million free e-book downloads to students over the award’s five-year span. The company also announced its intent to work directly with scholastic publishers to ensure that accessibility features are included in over 50 percent of the nation’s educational books by 2022.

“Access to knowledge through reading is a basic human right and a critical step on the path to economic, educational and social development,” Brad Turner, Benetech’s vice president of global literacy, said in a statement. “Many students struggle in school and in life because they read differently. Benetech is proud to work with these students, their parents, and their educators to make reading not only possible but also fun and enjoyable with personalized reading experiences.”

Source: Education Department awards $42.5M grant to grow online library of accessible books

Instructure eases accessibility compliance for Canvas users with new tool

Canvas, the popular learning management system from Instructure, has added a new accessibility function that will automatically flag and fix online content that presents challenges for students with disabilities. The Accessibility Checker is now available to the 3,000 universities, school districts and global institutions that use Canvas. It aims to reduce the burden on anyone creating content in the learning management system by identifying and correcting common accessibility issues — “saving time, granting peace of mind and providing a better experience for all students,” the technology company said in its announcement, which was made in conjunction with the annual gathering of higher ed technology leaders at EDUCAUSE.

Read more: Instructure eases accessibility compliance for Canvas users with new tool

The challenge of making education accessible to all (update)

Although accessibility awareness is growing, putting theory into practice can be a tough endeavor for educational institutions around the globe. To better understand the challenges of making education accessible to all students, E-learn interviewed speakers from Blackboard’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day webinar series.

Read more: The challenge of making education accessible to all (eLearn magazine)

A Welcoming Classroom – The Chronicle of Higher Education

In 1945 a disabled World War II veteran named Jack Fisher petitioned the city of Kalamazoo, Mich., to make cuts in the street curbs in order to allow him and other wheelchair users to navigate the city more easily. Fortunately for Fisher, the son of Kalamazoo’s city manager also used a wheelchair, and so Fisher’s arguments found a sympathetic audience. Curb cuts were introduced around the city, and thus was born what has become a ubiquitous feature of our built environment today.

In the decades that followed Fisher’s advocacy, as curb cuts became more commonplace, it became clear they were not just for wheelchair users. They proved a welcoming feature of the environment for parents wheeling children about in strollers, for senior citizens who had trouble with stairs and steps, for people temporarily on crutches, for bike riders and skateboarders and more.

What began as an accommodation for people with disabilities became a design strategy that had almost universal appeal.

The trajectory of curb cuts — from specific accommodation to omnipresent design feature — is an oft-told story in the literature of Universal Design (UD), which seeks to create and modify physical spaces in ways that take into account the diversity of human bodies and minds. The educational equivalent of that theory is Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which likewise argues that faculty members should take the diversity of learners into consideration up front as we design our courses. And if we do, we will need to make fewer accommodations at the request of specific students, because inclusive design practices help all learners succeed.

Read more: A Welcoming Classroom – The Chronicle of Higher Education

How Universal Design for Learning can help the LMS reach every learner – eCampus News

An exciting and well-established concept known as Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is gaining attention in higher education as a way to make digital learning programs more accessible to all learners, including those with a wide variety of learning challenges. Endorsed by EDUCAUSE’s Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) and the Department of Education’s Horizon Report, UDL is a framework to design learning in a systematic way to anticipate and remove barriers to student learning.

UDL isn’t about accommodating people after the fact, or just for students with physical or learning challenges–it is meant to design learning that’s engaging and effective for everyone, right from the get-go. It does this by encouraging and supporting multiple ways for students to express ideas, demonstrate knowledge and engage with their learning environments–all lofty goals that are difficult to do in practice in a traditional classroom, but uniquely enabled by technology like the Learning Management System (LMS).

Read more: How Universal Design for Learning can help the LMS reach every learner – eCampus News

Now is the Time to Think About Accessibility | ChronicleVitae

As a new semester approaches, the academic’s to-do list can fill up pretty fast. All of that course planning you’ve been putting off all summer now seems pretty urgent. Your chair wants a copy of your syllabi by the end of the week. And there’s still the matter of those writing deadlines. I’m here to add one more item to your list. Now is the time — not later — to think about accessibility in your classroom.

For many of us, accessibility is a topic handled by a brief section toward the end of our syllabus — a paragraph detailing the steps a disabled student can take to receive accommodations. Such policies are very much figured as an exception to the norm, an appendix pinned onto the end of the syllabus, as if to say: “Oh yeah, and if you’ve got a disability, we can probably work to find some kind of solution.” For Anne-Marie Womack, assistant director of writing at Tulane University, that way of conceptualizing accessibility is all wrong.

Read more: Now is the Time to Think About Accessibility | ChronicleVitae

The challenge of making education accessible to all

Although accessibility awareness is growing, putting theory into practice can be a tough endeavor for educational institutions around the globe. To better understand the challenges of making education accessible to all students, E-learn interviewed speakers from Blackboard’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day webinar series.

Read more: The challenge of making education accessible to all (eLearn magazine)

Boise State’s Accommodations for Students | UPDATE

Boise State University is committed to ensuring students with disabilities receive appropriate, timely accommodations pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. In accordance with University Policy 2080, Equal Access for Students with Disabilities, Boise State will provide academic adjustments and auxiliary aids and services to students with disabilities, including students with hearing and vision impairments.

To initiate the accommodations process, students must contact the Educational Access Center at (208) 426-1583 or eac.boisestate.edu. Students requesting accommodations will be assigned an educational coordinator to engage in an individual consultation to determine reasonable and appropriate accommodations for the student. If a student requires certain academic adjustments or auxiliary aids that are not readily available for implementation, the university will use all reasonable alternatives to minimize the impact of the delay. Reasonable alternatives will be calculated to ensure that the student is not deprived of the opportunity to meaningfully participate in the classes, activities or programs.

For additional information about student accommodations, please contact the Educational Access Center.

Source: Boise State’s Accommodations for Students | UPDATE

Revised Standards Ensure Accessibility in eLearning | eLearningInside News

The development of eLearning has created opportunities for a highly diverse population of learners. Today, instructional designers and course developers can use a variety of interactive multimedia to help students reach learning objectives, eliminating the need for rote memorization and repetitive courses consisting only of text and images.

But all of these options come at a price: accessibility. The same multimedia interactions that have been lauded as the new standard for education often mean that learners with physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities are left behind. New updates to existing disabilities standards are calling on corporations and universities to ensure that all eLearning tools and courses are equally effective for users of varying levels of ability.Student wearing headphones.

Read more: Revised Standards Ensure Accessibility in eLearning | eLearningInside News