Marvin Williams

A New Look at Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Ed

This week’s post comes from Marvin Williams, Assistive Technology Coordinator in the Services for Students with Disabilities department at California State University, Fresno. Marvin, myself, and Fresno State’s Alternative Media Coordinator Rima Maldonado will be presenting later this week at the 30th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference in San Diego, CA. I’ve asked Marvin if he could provide some insight on Accessible Instructional Materials here prior to our session. You can read more about this below. Thanks Marvin!

Educational materials are important. It’s the stuff we use to teach, and we use a lot of them. As we move through school, we continue to use them, but the types may change. Educational materials can be textbooks, workbooks, websites, audio clips, video clips, movies, and most anything that you would use in teaching material to students. For now, we’ll look at text-based materials.

In her article, “The Average College Time Put Into Homework vs. High School,” Courtney O’Banion Smith had this to say about the differences between the reading a student does in high school and in college:

“You will read a lot more per class in college than you did in high school. Also, the content of the text will be more complicated and difficult to understand. As a result, reading will take you longer. If you skim, you won’t understand or remember important information that will be on the test or discussed in class, and your grade will reflect your lack of effort. Remember that just because assigned reading is never discussed in class or mentioned in lecture doesn’t mean it won’t be on the test.”

College is a very different experience from high school. The sheer volume of work can be very intimidating. So imagine having all of that reading and having a learning disability. The amount of energy that it typically takes to read and understand some difficult material can be quite considerable. Now imagine having to also “decipher” the material to read and understand it. The cognitive load of the student with a learning disability would most likely significantly increase to an exhausting level.

Assistive technology can definitely help with that. Assistive technology tools, like text-to-speech, allow students with learning disabilities to access the curriculum like their peers. Typically, we think about this for students only in P-12 education. However, many students with learning disabilities going on to higher education. While access to the assistive technology usually isn’t the big issue, access to the educational materials is.

Higher education still deals with the difficulties of trying to get usable digital materials. From unusable, “picture PDF” materials posted to learning management systems to websites with locked content, students in higher education who need help accessing the curriculum often face seemingly insurmountable barriers. As more students use various computing devices to access their course materials, the need for good, usable, accessible educational materials grows. And while universities typically do have programs to help students get their materials in a useful format, the process is quite different from how it happens in P-12 education.



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