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Accessible Media for Everyone: A Matter of Digital Citizenship

July 21st, 2010
Closed caption example

Image by Henrique used under a GNU Free Documentation license, version 1.2

I’m preparing for a session at next week’s MLTI Summer Institute in Castine. So I’m doing some thought processing and figured I’d take advantage of our blogging platform to make that public, and hopefully fine tune my message in the process.

Access to information is a civil right. It has it’s roots in legislative mandates, such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, amended in 2008 (ADA). Section 508, a 1998 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act, requires Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology, including websites and software, accessible to people with disabilities, which has broader and direct implications for organizations that receive Federal funds. Most recently and relevant to education was the reauthorization of IDEA in 2004, which has provisions for universal design for learning (UDL). The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 has a provision for UDL, as well. (As an aside, you might be interested in reading the recent “Dear Colleague” letter that the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education jointly wrote to the presidents of all U.S. colleges and universities, advising them to not use ereaders that are inaccessible to students with blindness.)

With today’s tools, including those readily available to 1:1 MLTI schools, consistently meeting the legal mandates and – more importantly – doing the right thing has never been closer to conceivable. With awareness, knowledge, and skills (typically in that order), both teachers and students can become self-organizers of practices that model, promote, and foster accessibility for all individuals. I argue that this is an integral component of digital citizenship.

Here’s a classic example: Teachers and students are increasingly creating video to convey information in engaging and innovative ways. Indeed, video is a multimodal technology that can be effective for both teaching and learning. To be a model of UDL, however, even video needs to be scrutinized for accessibility for a wide range of learner needs and preferences. What are the abilities necessary to acquire information from a video? Consider students who are deaf or hard of hearing and learners for whom English is not their first language. Add closed captioning to the video and its content becomes inherently accessible to more students, and even embeds a literacy strategy for all learners.

With some training, coordination, and support from an administrator, teachers and students can accomplish closed captioning of their videos with a product like QuickTime, and begin modeling accessibility and digital citizenship for a wide audience.

A similar “barrier to learning” analysis can be conducted for all of the electronic information and digital instructional materials that we and our students create. And if we collaborate with students in this process, we’ll model and ultimately instill a disposition for doing the right thing.

  1. September 2nd, 2010 at 14:14 | #1

    Hi, Cynthia and others. Great to read your post and to meet with MLTI leaders. A note about UDL and video–Northeast Historic Film offers video as primary source that does not require closed captioning as it is silent. See the Gandhi film made by a Maine traveler, Adelaide Pearson, in the 1930s as an example: http://oldfilm.org/content/gandhi-color-1 To be used for history, civil rights, geography, womens studies, other purposes.

    For those with visual impairment, here is an example of Audible Description from Northeast Historic Film, narration in English and Mandarin, click on choices under the video http://www.movingimagesincontext.org/collections/branch/paperchase/#

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