Accessibility of Technology in Higher Education

Accessibility of Technology in Higher Education

Deborah W. Proctor (Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch003
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Abstract

In systems thinking divisions apparent in science specializations are seen “as arbitrary and man made” (Checkland, 1981, p. 4). A key idea embedded in systems theory is that it can assist us in understanding of phenomena and that its holistic emphasis will promote orderly thinking. According to Checkland (1981), there are natural systems, designed systems, abstract systems, and human activity systems (p. 112). Human activity systems can be broken down into examples of open systems that are relationship dependent. Change is inherent in human systems, as the intricacy of the relationships in these kinds of systems require continuous adaptations if the system is to remain stable. Checkland viewed human activity systems as wholes that are emphasized by the existence of other systems.
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Introduction

In systems thinking divisions apparent in science specializations are seen “as arbitrary and man made” (Checkland, 1981, p. 4). A key idea embedded in systems theory is that it can assist us in understanding of phenomena and that its holistic emphasis will promote orderly thinking. According to Checkland (1981), there are natural systems, designed systems, abstract systems, and human activity systems (p. 112). Human activity systems can be broken down into examples of open systems that are relationship dependent. Change is inherent in human systems, as the intricacy of the relationships in these kinds of systems require continuous adaptations if the system is to remain stable. Checkland viewed human activity systems as wholes that are emphasized by the existence of other systems.

Checkland (1981) called systems theory a metadiscipline because of its emphasis on holistic thinking. While “Descartes taught the Western world to break things apart,” systems thinking required one to look at things from the opposite end. Thus, “systems thinking is about the framework itself,” and it is an apt theory and manner of thinking to use when looking at a variety of kinds of systems (Checkland, 1981, p. 12). Two themes flow through systems thinking: (a) emergence and hierarchy, and (b) communication and control (Checkland, 1981, p. 75).

Kuhn (1974) declared that there are just two kinds of controlled systems “all living things, and controlled systems made by living things” (p. 69). Business, industry, government, and education systems are human creations; such social systems are created in direct response to meet their own needs and requirements, and the system created must meet, satisfy, and determine how it will attain its goals. System components then carry out, transform, and integrate the goal relationships into patterns of interaction and interdependence, and the process and interaction of the system created becomes whole and evolves into something that cannot be divided (Banathy, 1973). Churchman and Ackoff (1949 in Emery, 1973) alleged that when something has value in a social system, one can look across periods of time, see an increase in the pursuit of the system value, and observe an increased desire to achieve the system value (p. 20).

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Shifts In Thinking

Over the past 30-some years in the United States, shifts in thought regarding the use and value of information technology and new perspectives in relation to persons with disabilities and their ability to participate in key areas of human social interaction—such as work, citizenship, education, and independent living—have taken place. This article will explore changes to the education system brought about by the changes in viewpoint connected to the use of information technologies in education and educating persons with disabilities.

Technology has been a constant in the change process for education systems. Assimov (1991) outlined how technology has driven history and pointed to increases in literacy, advances made during the scientific and industrial revolutions, and the advances in 21st century information technology as evidence of technology as a change agent in history. Information technology’s place in history as a change agent is well documented, as is its impact on society, change, and is evident in the increased use, acceptance, and integration in today’s education system.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Section 504: “Section 504 states that ‘no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under’ any program or activity that either receives Federal financial assistance or is conducted by any Executive agency or the United States Postal Service. Each Federal agency has its own set of section 504 regulations that apply to its own programs. Agencies that provide Federal financial assistance also have section 504 regulations covering entities that receive Federal aid. Requirements common to these regulations include reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities; program accessibility; effective communication with people who have hearing or vision disabilities; and accessible new construction and alterations. Each agency is responsible for enforcing its own regulations. Section 504 may also be enforced through private lawsuits” (http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/cguide.pdf, p. 19 of 23).

Systems Thinking: A manner of thinking that takes into account how the things being studied relate and connect to each other. A key idea embedded in systems theory is that it can assist us in understanding of phenomena and that its holistic emphasis will promote orderly thinking. It is an apt approach to use when thinking about complex issues and interactions.

Issues: According to Mills (1959), “issues transcend” the individual and are societal concerns that take into account larger and more public matters. The issues of persons with disabilities, and their integration into and access of societal institutions such as higher education, are public matters in the 21st century, as is the concept of accessible technology for all citizens.

Accessibility: The ability to easily navigate and move about in the environment. Usually thought of in terms of the architecture of buildings, but since the recent advent of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), has been expanded to include the architecture of the World Wide Web and, per Section 508 (NCD, 2001), all electronic and information technology.

ADA: “The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. It also applies to the United States Congress. To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability or have a relationship or association with an individual with a disability. An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered” (http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/cguide.pdf, p. 3 of 23).

Access: “A means of entrance, the opportunity to reach or use, free of physical and attitudinal barriers. Access for blind individuals means mobility and information (warning textures at curbs, stairs, and hazardous doors; removal of obstacles; Braille elevator buttons). Access for deaf individuals means communication (cooperation, warning lights on fire alarms, text telephones). Access for the mobility impaired and wheelchair users means removal of physical barriers, maneuvering space, clear floor space” (http://www.equal-access.com/equal-access-glossary.html).

Information technology (IT): “A term that encompasses all forms of technology used to create, store, exchange, and use information in its various forms (business data, voice conversations, still images, motion pictures, multimedia presentations, and other forms, including those not yet conceived). It’s (sic) a convenient term for including both telephony and computer technology in the same word” (http://www.whatis.com).

Student with a Disability: Any person “who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of a person’s major life activities; has a record or such impairment; or is regarded as having an impairment” (Section 504). Impairments include, but are not limited to, physical, visual, auditory, mobility, cognitive, and learning disabilities. Also see the term disability provided in the list of definitions for the ADA-recognized definition. Note too that definitions that attempt to describe disability cannot be exhaustive, as words and terms to describe types of disability change over time.

Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI): “WAI, in coordination with organizations around the world, pursues accessibility of the Web through five primary areas of work: technology, guidelines, tools, education and outreach, and research and development” (http://www.w3.org/WAI/about.html).

Stakeholder: Stakeholders include people or organizations with a stake in a particular issue or resource. In this article, stakeholders are defined as faculty, staff, and administrators who work in systems of higher education.

Barriers: Real or perceived obstructions to social, political, and intellectual enterprise for persons with disabilities that deny civil rights, are discriminatory, or impede a person’s access in an environment (Crewe & Zola, 1987, p. 37).

Distance Education: A formal educational process in which the majority of the instruction occurs when student and instructor are geographically separate. Instruction may be synchronous or asynchronous. Content and communication may be exchanged through a variety of media.

Section 508: “Section 508 establishes requirements for electronic and information technology developed, maintained, procured, or used by the Federal government. Section 508 requires Federal electronic and information technology to be accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and members of the public. An accessible information technology system is one that can be operated in a variety of ways and does not rely on a single sense or ability of the user. For example, a system that provides output only in visual format may not be accessible to people with visual impairments[,] and a system that provides output only in audio format may not be accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Some individuals with disabilities may need accessibility-related software or peripheral devices in order to use systems that comply with Section 508” (http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/cguide.pdf, p. 20 of 23).

Accommodations: Modifications or adjustments to a task or an environment that allow a person with a disability an equal opportunity to complete a task or to access an environment. Not all persons with disabilities, or kinds of disability, require accommodations. Environmental accommodations include, but are not limited to, ramps, curb cuts, handicapped accessible bathrooms, accessible computer stations, touch screens, and light switches. Education accommodations include, but are not limited to, tape recorders, screen readers, oral tests, extra time to complete related course work, and notetakers and interpreters provided to students with disabilities.

Higher Education: Education beyond high school provided by colleges, graduate schools, and professional schools. The term is “used interchangeably with postsecondary education in journal articles and education discourse” (Random House, 1987, p. 902).

Disability: “This is the accepted term under the ADA and replaces all other terms in legislative and professional terminology. For purposes of the ADA it means the limitation of a major function, which is the result of a physical or mental impairment. Some disabled people include: wheelchair users, the mobility impaired, the blind, the deaf, those with lack of stamina, mental and cognitive disabilities, and various ‘hidden’ disabilities” (http://www.equal-access.com/equal-access-glossary.html).

Integrated Learning System (ILS): Packages of hardware and software intended to deliver computer-based instruction. The packages provide opportunities for drill, practice, tutorial, simulation, problem solving, and an array of methods to maintain records on student progress. Each student can study at his or her own level, and when used as intended, assessment information is used to enhance student learning in off-line instruction as well. An ILS is prepackaged with all the curriculum in place (Roblyer & Edwards, 2000).

Instructional Management System (IMS): System and information technology tool that allow educators to create, organize, and manage online courses quickly and easily though the use of Web-based templates for online course delivery. Most IMS vendors advertise their product as a course management tool that allows individuals to create course content as easily as they create documents or presentations in software applications such as Word or PowerPoint.

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