Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Accessible Computing Resources

Aside from thought provoking discussion topics like the previous post, I envision Access Ability to be a source of resources for DSS professionals. With this thought in mind, I offer the following resources dealing with accessible computing. Some of the resources are tutorials, one is a screen reader, another is a guide to accessible web sites, and the last one is a jackpot of access technology information. The best part about these are that they are all free. (Sorry for inconsistencies in the links. While some of the html I used worked at providing text links, others did not, hence the URL links.)


While some may argue over whether it is the blind rehabilitation agency or the college who is responsible for training students on how to use adaptive technology, two things are certain:
1, colleges and universities must supply some form of accessible computing;
2, competence in using computers empowers students with disabilities to be more successful.
Whether or not your school provides any training, free tutorials can help any student learn how to make adaptive technology work. The author of the “From The Keyboard” series has made his tutorials available for free download at his web site.
The tutorials offered on the website bary, but include several which are specifically written for using the Microsoft Windows operating system, the internet, and other pc applications, in particular, the Microsoft Office applications Word, Excel, and Outlook.

The downside to this website is that the tutorials will most likely not be updated in the future. As a result, they will become increasingly outdated as time marches on. The key thing is that they can give some fundamental skills to students who must use the applications with the keyboard instead of the mouse. If a student can get the basic operation of a program down, even if it is an older version, the odds are that the student will be able to move to a newer version of the application with the basic concepts in place.


Even though the DSS office may not be able to use this, there is a
free screen reader
available to individuals. Thunder is a free download from a UK company that also sells magnification and scanning applications for blind and visually computer users. I have not personally tried this product, but if it offers free access to blind computer users, the price is definitely right.


While the two previous links were targeted for assisting students who have visual disabilities, accessible websites deal with more than just that segment of the DSS service population. As more and more material is being presented on-line, colleges and universities need to ensure that all of their web offerings, not just the distance education classes , are accessible. The people responsible for much of a school’s web content are often web developers in the various departments, are often compartmentalized, and not necessarily linked to the school’s IT or Distance Ed department.

In my own experience, it was these department web designers that were reluctant to change and offered resistance to incorporating accessible features to the web pages they had already designed. The university where I served as a graduate assistant in the DSS office sent a contingent of interested folks to an accessibility seminar and learned about
and their Air U project, which my university later participated in.

I just learned about a useful book that would have been a handy tool to have back then and helped to communicate our message of accessability to these designers at my university.
Dive Into Accessibility is a downloadable zip file that is available in both html and pdf formats. Subtitled “30 days to a more accessible web site,” the book discusses the various people who can benefit from the incorporation of accessible web design, as well as outlining the step-by-step process of accomplishing the end goal. The book is written well in that it points out that there are a variety of different users who can benefit from accessible web sites, and they are not all visually impaired. It explores their various access needs and also provides the directions on how to implement the changes. The directions seem pretty user-friendly, which is saying a lot being that this review is coming from one who knows only very basic html code.

The file can be downloaded from the author's web site:


Finally, if you want to dive right into the world of those who do heavy accessible computing work, check out the
blog. ATHEN is the Access Technologist Higher Education Network, whose purpose, according to their site, is:

“to collect and disseminate best practices in access technology within and for the higher education environment as well as present a collective voice for the professional practice of access technology in higher education.”

ATHEN is a non-profit organization and deals with all varieties and models of accessible technology, trying to find what works best and share their information. I came across the group when I was conducting research into the production of e-texts for my students. This blog is definitely one to bookmark and check out regularly for the latest in accessible technology news. The old saying, “a wealth of resources,” may be cliché, but it truly fits for the ATHEN blog.

In addition to the ATHEN site, I hope you’ve got Access Ability bookmarked. I will be diligently working to post the latest news and share useful resources for the advancement of the DSS profession. Stay tuned and check back regularly.

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