Accessibility and mobile and wireless technologies
For learners with disabilities, mobile devices present both benefits and constraints. As the range of possible disabilities is wide, it is important to gauge the accessibility of any activity using mobile devices in the light of individual needs.
Mobile devices can offer some important advantages to learners with disabilities:
- Participation in activities that might otherwise be inaccessible.
- Portable access to appropriately designed e-learning resources.
- Avoidance of some of the self-image problems associated with assistive technologies.
- Opportunities for self-paced use of learning resources in any context.
PDAs and mobile phones can assist learners with time management, providing calendar, clock, to-do list, alarm and notepad functions. Mind-mapping software is available for PDAs, as are handwriting recognition, word prediction and spellchecking software, portable keypads and onscreen keyboards, making the planning of assignments possible on a mobile device. Voice recording and camera facilities on some mobile devices offer further alternatives. Dyslexic learners can also benefit from the multimedia options provided by PDAs and mobile phones, such as audio clips, animations, video clips or text-to-speech options.
For many disabled learners, mobile phones really do add value, for example SMS messaging and email can help deaf learners work on collaborative tasks on an almost equal footing with their non-signing peers. The ability to beam files wirelessly between devices can also mean that collaborative tasks are made easier for many disabled learners.
Small screen devices and the limited options for altering text sizes, colours and backgrounds do not benefit learners with visual impairment. In these cases, additional magnifying aids may be needed. Other disadvantaged groups could be learners with motor coordination problems. Many learners, but especially those with cognitive difficulties or visual impairment, may also find the non-intuitive interfaces of many mobile devices difficult to use.
TechDis,a JISC-funded service, provides institutions with advice and appropriate resources, with regard to technology and disability issues.
TechDis recommendations on accessibility and mobile and wireless technologies:
- Explore the benefits of mobile and wireless learning - the wider the repertoire of skills a practitioner can develop, the more adaptable (and potentially accessible) their practice will be.
- When choosing any hardware or software, make accessibility one of the key purchasing criteria. Make sure your choice works for as many learners as possible.
- Consider accessibility whenever designing a learning activity and discuss any doubts about individuals' ability to access the activity in advance. This gives you the opportunity to adapt the approach or provide those learners with a different pathway to the same learning experience.
- Encourage learners to feedback on the accessibility of learning activities.
- It is not possible to add equal value all the time, so be prepared to add value differently to different groups at different times. There is never a 'one size fits all' solution.