Accessibility testing

In response to an OU activity, I’ve been testing accessibility software.  I chose to look at screen-reading software and tried:  NVDA, Thunder, and JAWS (public).

I found that after learning a few shortcuts I could have some success in reading … or rather hearing, text in a Word document.  However, I found the internet and specific sites very difficult to navigate.  Getting the cursor to the location of the text can be difficult and the amount of hidden page structure that is read out is distracting.

I found some of the voices, especially in the free products, difficult to decipher at first.  Although with a voice that did suite me I was able to increase the reading speed, and can imagine that it would be possible to set that speed high with practice.  This is shown in a BBC Ouch! podcast, where (at 9:15 minutes) the presenter demonstrates how quickly the screen-reader function on his mobile phone speaks.


Podcasts: essential and dreadful

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts about disability lately, in preparation for the first module of my OU study which relates to online learning and the support of disabled students.  Having completed dozens of revisions of my first assignment, I felt that it was almost ready for submission.  So, I decided to have a change and download something different to listen to on the bus.

I chose a couple of podcasts on academic writing.  After an hour of listening to various short episodes I was gripped with the feeling that my assignment needed a lot of work!  A number of rewrite/revisions later I do feel that it is significantly better.  So the initial feeling of dread, and the wish that I’d listened to some music instead, has been replaced by relief and gratitude.

To anyone who hasn’t tried them, I really recommend listening to podcasts.  For study purposes it’s a great way to keep engaged with your subject.  It can be fitted into and around the rest of your life, and turn what might otherwise be wasted time into an enjoyable and effective support of your formal study activities.


Who would have thought of complaining that an assignment word count was too small ?  I’ve just finished my first OU assignment and find that meeting a 1500 word limit is nearly as difficult as being asked to meet one of twice the length.

To say it’s smaller than usual, I don’t think that I took significantly less time, or went through fewer revisions.  Possibly the re-writing of every sentence to make it more concise will have been the equivalent of an artist not knowing when to stop and overworking a painting.  Just to confirm … I definitely wasn’t comparing the assignment to a work of art then !  One would hope that it finished a bit tighter than it might have been, as a result of the pressure to make each word count.  Time will tell … after all it hasn’t been marked yet !

Update:  I got 77% for that assignment … maybe all assignments should have very tight word counts!  I think that with a tight word count you are forced to stick rigidly to the topic/question, and it’s this focus which improves the content.

Accessible theme

I’ve changed my WordPress theme to Twenty Fifteen, since this is one of a small list of themes described as accessibility-ready.  I recently performed some WebAIM accessibility software simulation exercises as part of my OU course.  As a result I now realise how difficult it is to know how accessible a website is unless you test it, or as in this case, use a recommended theme/template.  Of the free templates available, I like the design of this one best.

Update: I’ve since changed again …

Academic activities and impairment

This post considers some of the activities that that are undertaken by students in classroom and online environments, and considers which disabled persons (based on impairment types) might be most affected by the format in which those activities take place. [OU 4.1/4.3]

The clearest differences that I identify (between classroom and online methods) are in the curriculum delivery activities.  The common activities tend to be relating to: communication, the application of academic skills, and in producing output from which to demonstrate learning.


The style of grouping activities by type, and of linking to impairments, borrows from the SCIPS website:

Inaccessible materials and activities are equally disabling whether delivered in person or online.  One feature of well designed digital content is that it can be prepared in accessible formats for direct access, or be designed to be suitable for assistive technology.  Of course this presupposes that online learners have appropriate IT resources with which to access the online content.

Definitions of disability

An attempt, based on OU recommended sources to identify a number of definitions of disability and comment on them.  Sources used Martin Cooper blog (2012), and Seale E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education (2014). [OU 3.1]

The Medical Model.  A deficit model based on identification and classification of impairments,  and by inference an identification of the disabled person by that impairment.  It is often used in relation to regulations, laws, assessments relating to entitlements (for instance to benefits/support).

The Social Model.  The social model of disability is a result of society’s action, or inaction, (which may be physical, organisational and attitudinal) that prevents disabled users from accessing a service or facility in an equal way, or at all.

The Post Social Model.  This model argues that everybody experiences their own limitations and ‘impairments’ – the difference is in degree and effect.

The Functional Model.  A model of disability as it applies in particular situations – for instance, in relation to web access it is accessibility/disability that facilitates or prevents people from achieving full interaction  (whether directly or via accessibility software).

The Administrative Model.  The administrative model is a use of the medical view grouping and identifying persons by impairment, in order that a practical course can be determined, for instance in the provision of support to students.

There is a further model listed by Seale: the Charity Model.  This is described as a model which portrays disability and disabled persons by reference to the tragedy of their situation. However, as well as being the most archaic, it also does not operate as suitable a frame of reference from which to consider future action to improve accessibility.

Additional Note: having discounted the Charity model as archaic and unlikely to be of use in the modern age, as a framework for discussing or addressing disability, I then later read the Chinese law on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities [OU5.2] and it seems that both the medical and the charity models (representing a view of disability) are alive and well.

OU activity 1 – getting started

Accessible online learning: supporting disabled students is my first OU module.  The first online activity of the module is to reflect on my role and context in Education, and how it relates to accessibility and online learning.

Currently I’m working in an IT role at a large FE/HE College – but not in a role that specifically relates to education delivery or student support.

Fortunately, I do have access to colleagues from teaching, and from disability and learning support departments.  I will be using these contacts to reflect on the college’s policies and practice concerning accessibility and in support of students with disabilities.

My institution has a stated goal to increase online provision of courses and materials.  I suspect that this has more to do with competition and reducing costs than an ambition to improve accessibility underpinned by Universal Design for Learning (or similar) principles.  I also suspect that whatever action is eventually taken to progress this goal will happen as an isolated project rather than as part of organisation-wide changes.

I have recently completed a degree at my workplace so have experience of how teaching materials were delivered online to support of classroom sessions.  I also witnessed some of the in-classroom range of disability support services provided here.

On completion of my course, or sooner, I would like to change career to work supporting students either directly, or by being involved in the delivery of accessible online learning.

Well, they say that a journey starts with a single step … step 1: complete.