For thirteen years I worked in the field loosely known as accessibility. My job was technologies coordinator for the National Center on Severe and Sensory Disabilities at the University of Northern Colorado. I started in 1999 as a graduate assistant helping to build the first online master’s degree in education for the blind. The project crew from a Western Regional Governor’s program to a national scope with the help of earmark funding from the U.S. Congress.
I found the challenge of creating meaningful educational experiences for students or are blind or visually impaired to be at once overwhelming and exhilarating. The internet is – at its core – a graphic environment. For people who can’t see it, it’s still an amazingly powerful tool–one with the ability to break down walls of prejudice, stereotype, and isolation. There’s an apocryphal cartoon about “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” For us, the moment came when a teacher who was herself blind told us, “This is the first semester I didn’t have to get somebody to read the papers for me.”
Along the way I helped develop some tools.
Web Enabled Simulated Braille (WESBraille) is a tool to help sighted teachers get enough practice to become proficient in braille without overwhelming a braille instructor. It grew out of our need to provide high quality braille instruction at a distance and lets students practice braille drills online using only a web browser and a normal keyboard.
Accessibility continues to be an issue with education’s growing interest in distance delivery and with leveraging internet technologies to reach out to tuition-paying students.