"For people without disabilities, technology
makes things convenient,
The Internet offers a wealth of educational and recreational learning material in the form of text and images. People with disabilities; for example, people who are blind or physically disabled, are able to overcome barriers to using these materials with the help of software and hardware technologies which have evolved as the Internet has grown. The spread of high-speed Internet is bringing with it websites rich in audio and video. Educators are creating a wealth of exciting learning materials using these technologies spurring an increased demand for tools which will allow all people, including those with disabilities, to access the material.
The transition to these broadband networks represents a risk and an opportunity for people with disabilities. On the one hand, broadband networks provide a flexible vehicle whereby innovative display and control alternatives can be offered that afford access to users with a range of skills and needs. The interactive mechanisms that will be available over broadband networks will allow learners to customize the presentation of the learning materials (the pacing, the order, the modality, etc) while retaining a rich, engaging learning experience. Broadband will also allow the transmission of multiple modalities synchronously (video, audio, haptics, text, graphics), thereby accommodating learners who need alternative display modalities or several display modalities at one time.
The risk presented by the move from restricted bandwidth networks to broadband networks is that content developers lose an important motivation to include equivalent alternatives to multimedia content. To date, steps taken by content providers to accommodate users with bandwidth restrictions, legacy browsers or mobile client software (eg, text alternatives, no-frame options, structural markup, etc.) have also made the content accessible to people with disabilities. To ensure that the move to broadband networks does not exclude a large portion of Canadian learners, inclusive tools and mechanisms need to be developed at the outset.
The overall goal of this project is to identify potential barriers to access in broadband education delivery systems, develop solutions to the barriers, advance alternative or multi-modal display and control mechanisms that are only possible in broadband environments and create tools that allow learners to customize the learning experience to their individual learning styles and needs.
Learners who are presently excluded from using network based educational environments due to access barriers include individuals of all ages:
Potential learners with disabilities make up more than 15% of the Canadian population. This will increase in the next decade with the effects of an aging population. Given a growing awareness and respect for the human rights of people with disabilities worldwide and legislative steps taken to insure access, there is a large market worldwide for barrier free education tools.
The Project Team
The project team has broad sectorial and geographic representation. The team draws together leaders in the field of academic technology access, forerunners in national educational broadcasting, cutting-edge innovators in information technology, and national consumer groups. The team members represent university-based research programs, Canadian corporations, Canadian Small Medium Enterprises and national public sector partners. The team has the necessary participants and commitment to accurately identify the barriers, develop innovative solutions, implement the solutions, market the results to the educational market in Canada and abroad, and evaluate the outcome.
Development of broadband delivered education systems in Canada is at a critical juncture: conventions can be established that exclude a large sector of the Canadian population or conventions can be adopted that make education possible for many Canadians who have been previously excluded. If proactive steps are taken now, barrier-free education can be a naturally integrated component of broadband education delivery.