This week I was lucky enough to be amongst a group of students who got to visit the U.L. Disability Services Centre, in the Glucksman library. Assistive Technologies Officer, Thomas O’Shaughnessy, gave us an overview of the kinds of technological supports that are available in U.L for students with a disability.
Equality of access for people with disabilities has been a cause close to my heart for many years. I am currently on a career break while I complete this master’s programme, but in my other life I am a Coordinator of adult services with the Brothers of Charity in Co. Clare. In my role with the BOC, most of my energies are directed to the removal of the barriers to equal access and social inclusion, encountered by people with a disability on a daily basis. In the past 4-5 years it has become very obvious to me that technology can play an important part in addressing and correcting many of these inequalities. Many of the people receiving supports from the BOC in Clare are using mobile devices, such as ipads, scheduling support watches, smart pens, security pressure pads etc. to enable and augment communication, to assist with behavioural challenges, to overcome sight and hearing impairments and to assist them in achieving a higher level of self-direction and self-esteem.
Thomas provided us with a demonstration of the various assistive technologies available in U.L. He showed us some of the voice recognition and screen-reader software, touch screens, screen magnifiers and even a head-mouse that enables the wearer to interact with their pc by pointing their nose at the screen! He spoke about the study-note taking and study skills supports that his office provides and outlined the many extensions and add-ins that are available through Google Chrome, Windows and Mac.
The right to education is protected under article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to access information and communications technologies is protected by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Students who are enrolled at the University of Limerick have already grappled with the difficulties in holding society to account regarding its human rights obligations. It is wonderful to see that, once they arrive in U.L, there is such a high level of commitment to uphold these rights and ensure that all students have equal opportunities for self-fulfilment.
It is important for MA Technical Communication and e-Learning students to be reminded of the importance of accessibility as it is an essential component of quality instructional and informational design and content. Quality content design and development should aspire to meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines set out by the World Wide Web Consortium. Content and design that falls short of these standards cannot hope to engage people with disabilities and therefore lessens its reach and efficacy. The internet was conceived of, in part, as a means of ensuring universal access to information, it is vital therefore that we size upon all opportunities to ensure that our content supports this ideal.