Not much of the work we do here at the CETIS Accessibility SIG (Special Interest Group) involves cognitive disabilities – possibly because electronic resources tend to be vision-centric, so a lot of the focus is on making resources accessible to people with visual impairments. So it was good to come across this YouTube video (thank you, Paul Hollins) made by Amanada Baggs, who has autism – entitled “In My Language“.
The first part of the video shows how she interacts with the environment around her, so there is no dialogue. However, part way through she then explains how the language she uses to communicate and interact is not what other people would consider as “standard”. Amanda uses assistive technology to voice her eloquent narrative and I found her comparison of communication methods very illuminating and thought-provoking.
A person’s way of interacting with their environment will obviously have a bearing on their preferred learning style and so we need to ensure that other (non-electronic) learning resources are also available for people who prefer to learn (and communicate) in a “non-standard” way. This is part of the holistic approach to Accessibility, as outlined in Kelly and Phipp’s paper on “Implementing A Holistic Approach To E-Learning Accessibility“.
However, if non-electronic resources are available as alternatives to electronic resources, how can they be identified as such? One suggestion is to include a pointer in the accessibility metadata of an electronic resource, which points to a location or further details about the non-electronic resource (there were rumours that this method could be included as part of the IMS or ISO Accessibility work).
This pointer could also be used to identify other resources and experiences that simply aren’t available in the virtual world – such as sculptures, archaeological sites, etc – where the environment, the student’s reaction to the resource within that environment, and the use of more than just a limited set of the student’s senses are important to the whole learning experience. A catering student will need to use their senses of taste and smell (and sight), when developing a signature dish. An archaeology student will not feel the thrill of uncovering an artefact until they get out there and actually get their hands dirty. A history student may have a greater understanding of military strategy by visiting a battleground and experiencing the actual qualities of the terrain. Therefore, although 2D electronic resources can provide a wealth of information and understanding, sometimes they just aren’t enough.