“I was lucky to have been born in the computer age. Without them, my life would have been miserable and my scientific career impossible.”Professor Stephen Hawkings
Assistive technology offers a growing array of opportunities to make life easier and more inclusive for people with disabilities. A significant feature is embedding disability specific technology into mainstream platforms for the benefit of all users. For example Google building access symbols into Google Maps last year and Apple incorporating what once were ‘disability features’ like zoomtext, predictive text & Siri into standard user interface. The automated door was developed to assist people with disabilities but became so mainstream it’s now standard in building.
“Universal design is design that’s useable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”Ron Mace, 1985
Conversely, the approach in tertiary education to addressing disability barriers has largely remained with the student with disability, needing to source, negotiate and at sometimes fund themselves, the solutions to overcome any barriers. The ANU has committed to a different approach by recognising the importance of embedding universal design principles into policies and procedures, and by developing and adopting the ANU Disability Action Plan 2020-2024 (DAP). The DAP has 5 key focus areas, including “Education Provider of Choice” and adopts a social model of disability which recognises that while an individual may have an impairment, disability is the result of interaction between the impairment and the attitudinal or physical barriers of the institutions around them. The ANU is committed to ensuring accessible learning environments with well promoted and resourced supports for our students living with disability.
The use of ASR, in the Echo360 platform is great example of how the ANU is striving to become an educator of choice, by using new technology to move our University closer to achieving a diverse and inclusive teaching and learning environment. “Professor Katie Ellis is the Director of the Centre for Culture & Technology at Curtin University and has been researching how students with disabilities use digital media for more than 10 years. About 5 years ago, she started thinking about accessibility features such as media captions as something for everyone… she reflected that accessibility needs or not, students expected captions. Students are accessing captions on their TV as a regular pattern of behaviour and they feel that if it’s available in entertainment, it should be available for studying and it should be accurate.” (Echo360)
Echo360 ASR opens the door for integration with other platforms to allow ‘real time’ transcription services. For students who are Deaf that means they can participate and follow a lecture without having to wait 5 days for a transcript to find out what it was all about. ASR also offers improved access to learning materials which can benefit all students, including those with cognitive and sensory disabilities or even those who do not identify themselves as having a disability.
Some user experiences from Echo360 ASR: “As an instructor, I know that there may be students in class with ADHD, colour-blindness, autism, tinnitus, dyslexia, partial Deafness, low vision and so the list goes on. Some students in my class may have accessibility challenges however more often than not, I don’t know who, and that is intentional.” (Echo360) and “At Swinburne University, a dual sector university, David Yammouni, Learning Technology Designer, Developer and Coordinator, sees potential for the automated transcript even without 100% accuracy. ‘ASR supports students because even if the transcription is not 100% accurate it still provides students with the context and it is quick and easy for either students or instructors to correct technical words,’ said David” (Echo360)
The ANU DAP is an ongoing journey towards equity for all our students, staff and visitors and exploring new technologies is a vital step in achieving it’s objectives.