1.2 Considering disabled people
There are approximately one billion disabled people in the world – that’s around a seventh of the world’s population (World Bank [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , 2017). In Europe, one in seven people of working age (15–64) say that they have some form of disability (Eurostat, 2017). This can include having difficulty performing specific tasks such as walking, reading, lifting, listening or typing, and it also includes general health conditions such as cancer, bipolar disorder or arthritis.
Disabled people were among the early adopters of personal computers. They were quick to appreciate that word processing programs and printers gave them freedom from dependence on others to read and write for them. Similarly, although smaller devices like smartphones can have accessibility issues, some disabled people became early adopters due to their power for portable text-to-speech and later speech recognition capabilities. Some of these disabled early adopters became very knowledgeable about what could be achieved and used their knowledge to become independent students at a high level. They also gained the confidence to ask that providers of education make adjustments so that disabled students could make better use of course software and the web, rather than just word processing. In many countries pressure from these disabled people and their advocates has led to the creation of laws ensuring certain aspects of accessibility.
For some disability groups, information in electronic format (whether computer-based or web-based) can be more accessible than printed information. For example, people who have limited mobility or limited manual skills can find it difficult to obtain or hold printed material; visually impaired people can find it difficult or impossible to read print, but both these groups can be enabled to use a computer and, therefore, access the information electronically.
Online communication can enable disabled students to communicate with their peers on an equal basis. For example, a deaf student or a student with Asperger’s syndrome may find it difficult to interact in a face-to-face tutorial, but may have less difficulty interacting when using a text conferencing system in which everyone types and reads text. In addition, people’s disabilities are not necessarily visible in online communication systems; so disabled people do not have to declare their disability and are not perceived as being different.
The demand from disabled students may be sufficient justification for meeting their needs, but there are three main factors that motivate educators to consider the needs of disabled people in eLearning design.