Accessibility and Innovation

In accessibility, innovation in teaching, universal design for learning on December 13, 2010 at 8:41 am

In the article Colleges Lock Out Blind Students Online, Marc Parry describes the one-man odyssey of Darrell Shandrow, a self-described blind journalism student who has embarked on a campaign to demand that universities across the United States incorporate acccessibility into their design of websites, textbooks and all other college experiences. Mr. Shandrow joined the lawsuit filed by the National Federal for the Blind against Arizona State University for its use of Kindle eReaders for etextbooks. According to Parry, Kindle eReaders’ menus are not accessible, although the Kindle does include text to speech software.

In a previous post, I talked about Universal Design for Learning and some of the legal requirements for accessibility. As I noted in that post, one of the key tenants of UDL is that instructional materials should incorporate as many approaches as possible so that many different learners can understand the material. That approach makes sense from a philosophical point of view. However, practically speaking, it is difficult to develop a non time-intensive way for faculty to implement it. I am part of a Faculty Learning Community Teachers in different posesat Fresno State that is working on helping faculty implement those principles in teaching. We are a group of approximately 20 faculty who are using the book Universal Design in Higher Education by Burgstahler and Cory to prepare instruction and/or materials that incorporate UDL principles. I have learned a great deal from that experience and look forward to the opportunity to incorporate UDL into my courses.

Parry’s article highlights a tension that exists between accessibility and innovation. Creating Magnetmaterials and delivering instruction using UDL principles automatically results in increasing the amount of content that is accessible on many dimensions.  However, it takes time and it can sometimes stifle innovation when that approach is adopted for all new things. I wholeheartedly agree with UDL and accessibility principles, yet as someone who likes to push the envelope, I sometimes find that that approach creates barriers to immediately trying a new approach. Conducting pilots help to provide balance but that can create obstacles to more comprehensive implementation.

Sometimes, I just want to dive in when I find something new. That new thing could be a new technology, a new teaching approach, implementation of information from an article about a new theory with which I was not familiar or just something different. I dive in and sometimes I learn what others already knew, but which, for some reason, I needed to learn for myself. I dive in and sometimes IDiving in a no diving area learn something new that I can use and that others also find useful. When I incorporate UDL and accessibility as a habit of mind, though, I must exercise more caution and that can sometimes stifle creativity. So, although I strongly support UDL principles and support implementation of them in my classes, I realize that I must also more carefully consider the options before jumping in. Thus the implementation of UDL has a cost of reducing innovation. Maybe that’s a cost that’s an acceptable one in light of the benefits of UDL.  That’s something to consider.


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