Open Education and Accessibility

The Open Education Conference is happening right now in Vancouver, but is also offering a number of ways to participate remotely, including live and archived streams of the event, or simply follow the tag opened09 just about anywhere (Twitter opened09, Flickr opened09, Delicious opened09, Blogsearch opened09, etc…)

The theme of this year’s conference is “Crossing the Chasm” and while I was disappointed that there weren’t more sessions addressing disability accessibility directly, there is a tremendous amount of value in almost every session I have watched to anyone interested in any kind of accessibility. Through the conference website I was able to find a couple of good resources on the accessibility of open educational resources for people with disabilities:

One of the resources I learned about today is folksemantic, a service and set of tools to help identify open educational resources. A quick search for accessibility resources yielded the following shareable learning resources:

If you do join in the conversation, be sure to add yourself to the virtual attendee list!

Access Means Different Things to Different People

“’Access’ isn’t just yes or no, but really shades of accessibility, and has different dimesions.” (Access to Open Educational Resources Wiki)

The definition of access from Merriam-Webster:

a: permission, liberty, or ability to enter, approach, or pass to and from a place or to approach or communicate with a person or thing b: freedom or ability to obtain or make use of something c: a way or means of access d: the act or an instance of accessing

Depending on who you are or where you are at in life, the word access has different meanings. UNESCO has a fantastic wiki page on Access to Open Educational Resources where they define a number of different types of access. Although written for a specific type of content (open educational resources), the types of access they have identified can be applied generally :

  • Awareness, Policy, Attitude, Cultural:
    • Access in terms of awareness.
    • Access in terms of local policy/attitude.
    • Access in terms of languages.
  • Legal
    • Access in terms of licensing.
  • Technical (Delivery Method)
    • Access in terms of file formats.
    • Access in terms of disability.
  • Technical (Receiving)
    • Access in terms of infrastructure.
    • Access in terms of internet connectivity/bandwidth.
    • Access in terms of discovery.
    • Access in terms of ability and skills.

Reading through the comments on the page, it is evident that in many parts of the world, access for users with disabilities is a secondary concern (at best). Without power, bandwidth or an even an Internet connnection no content cannot be accessed, so who care if is it accessible to users with disabilities?

When considering all of the different barriers that keep people from accessing content on the Internet, all of the sudden adding alternative text to an image doesn’t feel like such a big deal. Let’s keep working on an accessible web, but in the meantime let’s not forget that lots of people don’t have access to that content whether it is “accessible” or not.

Via Stephen Downes

Also of Interest

Open Social Network Roundup

There seems to be more and more discussion regarding the openness of social networks of late. In trying to follow the discussion, it seems that there are a number of different types of ‘openness’ being discussed. Dare Obasanjo has provided a good overview of the different considerations of what it means to be an open social network.

Regardless of what definition of openness you are using, Fred Wilson, reminds that:

…most of Facebook’s traditional users (like my two daughters) don’t care that their data is locked up in Facebook. I’ll show them my Facebook running in Netvibes when they wake up this morning and they’ll say “that’s nice dad but why would you want to do that?

Fortunately, there are a number of people interested in portable, open social networks including Marc Canter who provides us with an overview of some of the people and politics involved in the open social network discussions that are happening. Marc is working on the People Aggregator to be a stand along system and is dreaming of dreams of aggregating aggregators, aggregating conversations and aggregating groups”

Stephen Downes has also done some thinking in this area and defines three areas of need for social network portability and names some of the technologies that may get us there.

Wired recently made headlines with their critique of the walled garden approach that many vendors are using to control customer data. The article came along with a nice how to page from their wiki on how to Replace Facebook using Open Social Toos that gave some good ideas on aggregating content from your network of friends, but readily admitted the difficulty of providing the key component of social networking- relationship management tools.

Forward into the future we go- with mismatched definitions of what it means to be “open”, businesses who build market share by walling their customers in and many customers who don’t feel any need for things to change.
Hardly. As common definitions emerge, businesses models are adapted and the need for social network portability is recognized then solutions will come forward, it just may be a little bit of a wait.

Other resources:

Accessibility, Availability and Affordability

Of these three, which is the largest obstacle to the free and open flow of online information?

Consider the following:

  1. A 12-year old boy in Western Africa has learned how to read Braille. He has also recently received an inexpensive laptop as part of a corporate initiative to save the world with cheap computers. Unfortunately, he is unable to access the information on his own because he was born blind and the computer did not come with any software that can read the content of web pages.
  2. In rural Idaho a high school student has an inexplicable desire to “make websites”. There are no technology classes at her school, but a teacher allows her to use a school computer during the last part of lunch to practice her craft. She has found a couple of online communities that the school filter allows where she is able to find answers to many of her questions. After school she has a 50 minute bus ride to a small home at the bottom of a hill bordering a National Forest in Central Idaho. Her family does have an older computer, but they haven’t been able to find local Internet service provider.
  3. A young woman in Albania constantly hears her friends talk about people that they have met online. She found a job at a local byrek stand where she earns enough money to accompany her friends to a local Internet Cafe to participate in their online activities. However, her father recently lost his job because of illness and her family expects her to contribute all of her earnings to the family pot. She occasionally gets a few minutes to check her email by tagging along with her friends, but by and large she no longer able to use the Internet.

Each of the above problems might be overcome with some combination of technology, awareness or money. However, each situation does present a problem of accessibility, availability or affordability that might be generalized to include a larger number of people.

Which of these is the most significant obstacle to ubiquitous, affordable technology to allow everyone to connect to this vast collection of tubes that we call the Internet?

What other obstacles keep people from accessing the Internet?

Access for EVERYONE

I’ve been thinking about accessibility in little different terms lately. More and more I’m embracing a wider concept of accessibility and access that extends far beyond the disability community. It is the idea that wherever content can easily be made freely accessibly to be used by the masses, it should be. Too often, the free exchange of information is being stifled by copyrights, password-protected directories and content distributors. However, there is a lot going on to create more open content, with projects such as Creative Commons and MIT OpenCourseWare and thinkers such as Lawrence Lessig, Stephen Downes and David Wiley .

It seems that battle lines are being drawn, one side being those who want more control over how their content is distributed and used vs. those advocating for granting more access and usage rights for users. While the free content movement has been somewhat on the fringes, it is showing up more and more in mainstream media. Over the next few years there will be more and more discussion around this topic as both sides seek to defend their position and convince (or constrain) the general public to adopt one way of thinking or the other.

Some learners are faced with a double barrier. They may 1) be unable to access and use content because of cost or copyright and 2) there may still be accessibility issuess once those barriers are overcome . Hopefully in the continuing dialogue on these issues society and our lawmakers can forge and accept new ideas about the way we think about content in the 21st century.