The University of Southampton

Learners’ experiences change views about Assistive Technologies

Published: 26 February 2009

A wider range of so-called ‘Assistive Technologies’ will be recognised as useful to all learners, including those with disabilities, as a result of an ECS research project.

Dr Mike Wald and E.A. Draffan at the University of Southampton’s School of Electronics and Computer Science’s Learning Societies Lab, and Dr Jane Seale, from the School of Education, have been working on LexDis, a project which was funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) to assess some of the difficulties which arise in e-learning for disabled learners.

As a result of the findings from LexDis, further funding has been awarded to the team by the University of Southampton to continue working with students to explore the difficulties that can arise when working online, including the use of Web 2.0 services and applications.

More than 30 students participated in the LexDis project and fed back their strategies for accessing various technologies.

Some of the key recommendations from the project were:

• Improve and increase the availability of desktop personalisation so that students can log in with their own colour, font and accessibility options. • Increase the level of provision for online materials. This is vital for those who cannot handle paper based materials easily. • Increase the level of awareness for the use of alternative formats on the basis that even the most basic PDFs and PowerPoints can cause problems if they cannot be read on screen with speech output or accessed via the keyboard. • Design and develop learning opportunities and support systems that recognise the significant factors that influence disabled students’ use of technology – notably time.

‘Time is not on the disabled student’s side and indeed time is a real issue for every student, so there is a genuine need to keep technologies as simple as possible,’ said E.A. ‘We found it really useful that the students who took part in the LexDis project came up with new ideas for working with inaccessible resources and were often very innovative in the way they carried out research.

‘It is very important that we understand the difficulties that students encounter. Some of them, for example, have to take a PDF and change it into an alternative format to be able to annotate it or cope with diagrams. The knowledge that we have gained from these students is available on the website with guides and tips. It will also be used to look more in depth at the accessibility of Web 2.0 technologies.’

For further information contact Joyce Lewis; tel.023 8059 5453

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