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Technology can deliver learning for all

networked devicesWhen education only took place in the classroom, pens, books and blackboards were the main study aids. Now you can learn via Smart phones, PDAs like the HP iPAQ and mini laptops. However, the technology must be accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities.

Sending material to devices with small screens should concentrate developers’ minds on what is clear, concise and simple, which benefits everyone.

Accessibility should be a priority from the beginning when designing education software – not an afterthought.

There should be a choice about how to access material, for example using a keyboard only, altering the mouse reactions, using speech input or other devices. And output could involve adapting display formats, depending on text being converted to synthesised speech and print or braille.

It should also be possible to customise the layout, colours and fonts you prefer, say the IBM guidelines. (http://www-03.ibm.com/able/access_ibm/principles.html )

Technology can also be adapted to meet disabled people’s needs, using:

  • larger or more visible keys for those who have dexterity difficulties or visual impairments,
  • screen reading software and magnification for those who are blind or have visual impairments,
  • variations in colours, fonts and size to make text easier to read for those with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia.
  • Use of clear icons and graphics with audio for those with cognitive learning difficulties

Digital text allows you to choose how you display content and the form it takes. It could be visual, audio, interactive and text based but must always be easy to access.

Headers and sidebars can be made to stand out, perhaps using different colours and fonts, along with summaries and key questions. And reminders of key points and revision aids can be set into the text. http://www.cast.org/teachingeverystudent/ideas/presentations/digitaltext.cfm

New areas are opening up all the time. For example, you can now view the BBC website on your mobile: http://www.bbc.co.uk/mobile/web/index.shtml

This was particularly useful for student Sarah. “I was due for an upgrade on my phone,” she said. “So after doing some research I went to Orange. They offered me a Smart phone, which allows me to use Word, PowerPoint and Excel. The phone also has Wi-Fi connection, so I am able to connect to the internet for free!”

(http://www.lexdis.ecs.soton.ac.uk )

Software like Adobe Flash allows developers the chance to support learning preferences by introducing multimedia elements that do not require users to access learning objects with their assistive technologies but still offer universal access.

And as an example of how creative educational materials can be, try the British Museum Turning the PagesTM books (http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/ttp/ttpbooks.html ) which may not yet be available on a mobile phone or PDA, but offers a novel way of viewing historical information.

By E A Draffan – University of Southampton

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