Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Distance Learning for the Blind

by Donna J. Jodhan

Call it a double edged sword; but distance learning for the blind can be viewed in two very different ways. On the one hand, it could open up tons of doors of opportunity for blind persons but on the other hand, it could pose new challenges for those with a vision loss.

In general, distance learning has helped to make education much more available and accessible to those living in remote areas, to those who have difficulty attending physical classes, and to those who are unable to afford the luxury of travelling from their homelands to developed countries. A great boon and a bridging of the gap for millions and distance learning is definitely growing in popularity.

For those who are blind and sight impaired, distance can be described as a double edged sword. On the one hand, yes, it makes education more available to these persons but when the websites that offer these courses are not accessible, or when the software being used by the distance learning providers are not compatible with the access technology being used by the blind and sight impaired student, here is where the barriers are. In addition, when the website designers and developers are unable to grasp the meaning of accessibility, blind and sight impaired students have to go the extra mile to explain their environment.

It is my experience that in several cases, there is a mixed bag when it comes to how the professors and tutors view the whole subject of accessibility. That is, making it possible for blind and sight impaired students to pursue distance learning. It should be easier for blind and sight impaired students to be able to access electronic texts but fairly often, this is sadly not the case. I'd like to suggest some tips for anyone who is reading this.

  • Electronic texts need to be made available in a format that could be read by blind and sight impaired students. These students use screen reading and magnification software to read. Blind students who use screen reading software need to be able to access textual formats; they are unable to read images, graphics, and icons. Texts in word and RTF or TXT formats are preferable.
  • Websites should be designed so that blind and sight impaired students can interact with them independently; without having to seek sighted assistance. Forms should be designed so that blind and sight impaired students can complete them independently; without sighted help.

Of course there are other things that I can suggest but for now I think that's a good start.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your friendly accessibility advocate wishing you a terrific day. If you'd like to learn more about me, then you can visit some of my blog spots at:
Donna Jodhan! Advocating accessibility for all: http://www.donnajodhan.blogspot.com
Weekly Saturday postings on issues of accessibility: http://www.sterlingcreations.ca/blog/blog.html
blogs on various issues and answers to consumers concerns: http://www.sterlingcreations.com/businessdesk.htm

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