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17 August 2022

Creating online access for students who are blind or visually impaired

Deakin recently worked with the Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training (ADCET) on the Online Access for Tertiary Students who are Blind or Vision Impaired e-Learning Module and Guidelines. This new resource was developed in response to the Vision Australia Report and explores how academics can raise the level of accessibility in their learning activities.

We spoke to the team from Deakin who collaborated on the project about how the guidelines and module came together and the importance of making sure learning and teaching is as accessible and inclusive as possible.

Darren Britten is an Assistive Technology and Accessibility Officer (Casual) at Deakin working with the Disability Resource Centre (DRC) and on the Accessibility Champions Project, working to establish the Students With Assistive Technology (SWAT) team, a collection of Deakin students in a peer-to-peer mentoring, advocacy and capability building group.  

Rene Hahn is a Senior Educational Designer with the CloudFirst project in Deakin Learning Futures, working with academics to redesign their units to enhance their online learning activities.

Danni Mccarthy is a Lecturer in Inclusive Education working with the Teaching Capability team in Deakin Learning Futures, working to empower academics to engage in inclusive practices that will have an impact on Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) targeted students.

What was your role on the project?

Darren: My role outside of Deakin is as the National Assistive Technology Project Officer for the National Disability Coordination Officer Program which is aligned with ADCET. It was ADCET that produced the guidelines and I started working on them in early 2021, looking to develop the more policy driven parts into practical information to be used in real-world scenarios.

Rene: I bought my skills as a learning designer to reviewing the eLearning module, completing a user experience test to ensure that the module flowed easily from one topic to another, that it used consistent language and was accessible.

Danni: As a lecturer of inclusive education, I was invited to review the guidelines and the online module. I provided Deakin-focused feedback on how academics might use these resources to build a more digitally inclusive approach in their online learning and teaching practice through digital accessibility.

Who did you collaborate with on the project?

Darren: The accessibility and inclusion sector is all about collaboration, it’s a community of like-minded people that want to proactively promote accessibility. Getting input from multiple people is always the best approach.

A number of higher education institutions were invited to give feedback on the module and the guidelines. Deakin became involved in the development through my dual roles at both organisations. For our contribution, once the guidelines were compiled, we ran them past the Deakin Accessibility Champions, the student SWAT team for their invaluable perspectives and contributions of lived experiences.

We also got feedback from staff at Deakin to put a practical lens on the guidelines. We were mainly concerned with ensuring that the outcomes from the module and the guidelines would work for students.

What sort of benefits will students and staff get from the module and guidelines?

Rene: The guidelines will also help students by making their experience more equitable. Staff who complete the eLearning module will be able to understand the challenges faced by students with visual impairments, the very real problems and issues they encounter, and how important it is to make sure that the experience for visually impaired students is equitable. 

The strength of the eLearning module is the way it steps you through the reasons why making the online learning experience accessible is so important, then it illustrates how to implement accessibility in a very understandable way.

What advice would you have for staff who would like to make their teaching practice more accessible?

Danni: It’s OK to pace yourself and to build your accessibility practice one step at a time. You don’t have to be perfect right away. It’s a lot like learning a musical instrument; before you can play a song on the guitar, you need to learn each chord and allow time for muscle memory to form.

It’s about building sustainable, inclusive practice. Do one thing a day, one thing a week, learn a little bit more each time. It’s about cultivating in yourself the ambition to be as accessible as possible.

You can explore the Online Access for Tertiary Students who are Blind or Vision Impaired e-Learning module and Guidelines on the ADCET website.

Listen to episode 50 of the Tales of Teaching Online podcast where Darren Britten discusses how digital equity can give students access to digital spaces. 

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