Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Accessibility Still Lacking to NFB

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has accused Educause and Internet2 of ignoring the needs of print-disabled students in e-book pilots in progress on more than 20 campuses across the country this fall. The criticism caught the pilot developers by surprise since they thought they were collaborating with the NFB on the project.

The criticism was leveled, in part, because a review of the original pilot done by Disability Services at the University of Minnesota recommended the school drop out of the program because of its use of PDF formats that wouldn’t work with adaptive technology such as text-to-voice software.

“The initial problem was the way the content is packaged and delivered, but it really [goes] beyond that, to the affordances that are built into the package as well,” said Brad Cohen, associate chief information officer for academic technology at the University of Minnesota.

The NFB criticism is an attempt to pressure organizers to add accessibility requirements into any platform used to deliver e-books, according to NFB President Marc Maurer, who added he would be satisfied to know what accessibility plans will be going forward.

“There has to be a deadline by which time they expect the system to be accessible to blind professors and students,” he said. “It can’t be 25 years from now. A couple of years would suit me. I’d be glad to have it sooner than that.”

Educause and Internet2 claimed in an e-mail to Campus Technology, “Given the rapid change in how technology is deployed—students often bring it rather than campuses providing it—it is critical to experiment with new ways to provide course materials. Inevitably, some of those experiments fall short. However, rejecting experimentation does not solve the problem.”

The tiff could be an opportunity for publishers to become more involved. Mickey Levitan, CEO of Courseload, which provides an e-reading platform for the pilot, said he believes accessibility is a “shared interest” between tech firms and publishers.

“These are very complex issues that will have to be resolved with collaboration of all the key parties,” he said. “I don’t think that this is going to fall unduly on any one of those groups, but its clear that its going to have to be a collaborative multipronged effort if we’re going to make progress possible.”

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