By: Diana Brown Post Date: Tue, 25/01/2011 – 5:03pm
But when the required materials are presented in their traditional format, they can be difficult to access for students who are blind or visually impaired.
Over the last decade, the rise of technologies like text reading software, scanners, mp3 audio files, braille translation programs, large print textbooks
and specialized iPad applications have brought equality and accessibility to Canadian classrooms and students from primary to post-secondary levels.
Susan Timmins, an itinerant teacher for the blind and visually impaired in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, says these technologies “do have a large impact.”
She also notes how “materials can be shared, which also has increased accessibility – books and texts can be borrowed in e-formats from all over the world with ease.”
Additionally, the Ottawa Catholic School Board purchases the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board’s programming to use for blind and impaired students within their schools, says Mardi deKemp, communications officer for the Ottawa Catholic school board.
Similarly, Carleton University and other educational institutions work with large national and international organizations to gain access to alternately
formatted materials for their visually impaired or blind students, says Pamela Williamson, reference services administrator and transcription services
co-ordinator for the Carleton library.
These organizations include Alternative Education Resources for Ontario, Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) Consortium and Bookshare Canada.
Since many of the organizations have their services subsidized or funded by the provincial government, blind or visually impaired students who require alternately formatted materials for school do not have to pay extra fees or charges, past buying the textbook, to have an accessible education, Williamson says.
Despite all these advances in technology, Frank Smith, the national co-ordinator for the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS),
notes there are still limitations and issues to confront in terms of total accessibility for visually impaired and blind students.
He states “the biggest issue for blind and visually impaired students is getting the academic materials that they need in a timely manner and in an appropriate
format for that student.”
Timeliness is an issue for these students. The average time to receive a textbook in an accessible format through the Carleton Library or the Paul Menton Centre is one day to two weeks, according to Williamson.
Smith also worries about the lack of accessibility on most Internet sites, which do not meet the international standards for accessible web design, realizing that many students need to use the web to do research and access course information.
Mostly though, Smith says he is pleased with the progress towards accessibility. “I think things are heading in a pretty good direction. There is a commitment by most schools to make education and accessible for the blind and visually impaired