Using Assistive Technology to Ensure Access to E-Learning for Individuals with Disabilities

Using Assistive Technology to Ensure Access to E-Learning for Individuals with Disabilities

Hwa Lee (Bradley University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-611-7.ch110
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Abstract

With the advancement of technology, Electronic Learning (E-Learning) now is more of the rule than the exception. E-learning has been the synonym for online learning, web-based learning, computerbased learning, in the fields of education, business, and information technology. E-learning utilizes a wide spectrum of technologies including internet, intranets, or multimedia platforms (O’Neill, Singh, & O’Donoghue, 2004). In order for individuals with disabilities to utilize E-Learning, often cases they need Assistive Technology (AT) which functions as a technological medium for accessing computer and the internet. The extent to which individuals need AT for computer and internet access varies depending on their residual abilities. Results from numerous empirical studies indicate the effectiveness of AT for individuals with disabilities in accessing learning and daily life activities. While a large body of studies exists in E-Learning, very few focus on supporting individuals with disabilities in their access to E-Learning. Providing AT for E-Learning access is not only the intent of the federal laws but also the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). The core intent of the federal law, Americans with Disabilities Act, is to narrow the disparity between individuals with and without disabilities by ensuring access to technologies needed for equal employment (CAST, 2009). Given that rehabilitation, business, education agencies attempt to fulfill the intent of the laws, the purpose of this study is to provide an overview of technology access for E-Learning for individuals with disabilities including legislations relevant to technology access for individuals with disabilities, AT service delivery models, principles of UDL, effectiveness of AT for individuals with disabilities, issues and solutions, and discussions for future directions for research.
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Background

Federal Legislations for Technology Access for Individuals with Disabilities

Federal legislations such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) have been the major force for equal access to technology for all individuals regardless of their abilities or disabilities. According to the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act (Tech Act, 1988), and the Public Law 105-17 the IDEA amendments of 1997, AT device is any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability (IDEA 1997). AT devices are typically categorized as low technology, medium technology, or high technology depending on the existence and level of sophistication in the included electronic components (Blackhurst & Lahm, 2000). The intent of these federal laws is that school and rehabilitation professionals consider AT as an option for individuals with disabilities, which presents challenges of evaluating individual needs for technology and identifying the appropriate AT items that will increase their functional capabilities in accessing E-Learning. In other words, these AT items can function as an equalizer, enhancing the independence and freedom of individuals with disabilities with their access to E-Learning.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Communication Access Real Time Translation (CART): A technology that provides the instant translation of the spoken word into English text using a stenotype machine, notebook computer and realtime software for individuals who are hard of hearing or deaf. The text appears on a computer monitor or other display. CART is also often referred to as realtime captioning (http://www.cartinfo.org/)

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): A comprehensive federal civil-rights statute protecting the rights of people with disabilities. This law affects access to employment; public programs and services; access to places of public accommodation including businesses, transportation, and non-profit service providers; and telecommunications (www.adata.org).

E-Learning: Learning system that utilizes materials that are largely made available electronically.

C-Print: A speech-to-text system developed for individuals who are hard of hearing or deaf in the educational environments.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL): An educational framework based on the principles of Universal Design (www.cast.org). UDL guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences.

Closed Captioning: A number of systems developed to display auditory information as text on television or projector screen.

Assistive Technology: Any device or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functioning of individuals with disabilities.

Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC): Any system that assists communication of individuals with communication impairments.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): This federal law requires public schools to make available to all eligible children with disabilities a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment appropriate to their individual needs.

Individualized Education Plan (IEP): A legal document that contains the student’s present levels.

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