A Review of the Digital Accessibility FutureLearn Course
Have you ever tried using your computer with your eyes closed? Or with your ears blocked? Or with your screen playing up? For many users, this isn’t something they ‘try’ doing – it’s their everyday reality of using a computer. If you ever find using a computer frustrating, just try to imagine how much more difficult it may be if one of your senses or your movement is impaired.
In figures for the UK from the DWP and the Office for Disability Issues from 16 Jan 2014, more than ‘11million people live with a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability’. These figures rise with age. ‘Around 6% of children are disabled, compared to 16% of working age adults and 45% of adults over State Pension age.’ The world bank states that globally, one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability, with a higher prevalence in developing countries.
Over the last few weeks, Futurelearn has offered a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) for free on the subject of Digital Accessibility. In September this year, I started work in a new role at the University of Huddersfield entitled ‘IT Trainer for Assistive Software and Accessibility’. Whilst I was quite clear what accessibility meant, I was keen to learn more about it.
In simple terms, Accessibility is about something being accessible. As the course explains (unit 1.3):
“When something is accessible we tend to think about a place, object or person that is easy to reach or approach – and the same is true about accessibility, where products and services can be used by a wide range of people.”
It goes on to discuss how it is important that this takes into account the diverse needs of people and some digital products are failing to deal with this, presenting barriers to their use. This is a shame in many respects. It is a shame for the individual but it also means that educational and commercial opportunities are missed when they could allow for full participation. Several of the case studies are from commercial organisations, who have recognised the full potential of their market.
Over the course of 5 weeks, the modules explore Enabling people (It’s about you), Enabling people to work on computers, Enabling people to communicate on mobile devices, Enabling people to use the web and enabling everyone every day.
As with most Futurelearn courses, the materials are presented in various forms – text, video and articles, some with links to external sources. How much or how little you do of the course is entirely up to you. Each section of each module offers the opportunity for discussion –and in some ways, I found this at least as valuable as the module itself, with other course ‘students’ sharing their real-life experiences and links. Many of the discussions illustrate some of the complexities surrounding this area – particularly lack of awareness or confusion between usability and accessibility.
On the course that I was on, there were several participants who had various issues with accessibility, and they were able to share how these difficulties prevented them from engaging in the digital world – surely something that everyone needs to do in today’s world.
The course also made use of several invented characters who we follow through the units. For example ‘Meet Anna, who has dyslexia’ or ‘Meet Lars who was born deaf’. Whilst they were ‘stereotypes’, it was useful to personalise the materials that we were looking at and gave more context to the discussion than it simply being given information.
The course has been developed by a group of international partners – from Dublin, Germany, Norway, Austria, France, Greece and England. The content was drawn from several European countries and that added to the richness of the course, with the examples being drawn from several areas and businesses.
If there was a problem with this course, it was mainly that there were simply not enough hours in the day for me to explore each topic as thoroughly as I would have liked to. With it being so closely linked to my job role, I was able to examine it in the context in which I work and see a lot of opportunities for development, which would benefit our students and the wider community. I have used the course to make contact with some of the participants to extend our discussions and share work.
The course will be running again starting on February 6 2017 and sign-up is available now. I will be participating again, to consolidate my knowledge from the first run-through and this time I am also hoping to involve a few colleagues, so that we can all improve our understanding in this area and take accessibility forward as a key strand in our digital work, removing any barriers to our work.
Sign up for Futurelearn Digital Accessibility course, starting in February:
Disability Facts and Figures (Department of Work and Pensions and Office for Disability Issues) (2014)
The World Bank Disability Overview
Ros Walker, IT Trainer Assistive Software and Accessibility, University of Huddersfield
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