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Distance Learning: New Opportunities for the Blind

 The rapid growth of the Internet has created extraordinary opportunities for distance learning, further enhanced by the diffusion of mobile learning systems. Even more than generic readers, students appreciate the portability and overall ubiquity of electronic content, but they also value legibility, presentation and good design (Wilson et al. 2002). Furthermore, smart searches and other dynamic features (such as tag clouds and semantic data navigation) make content exploration easier and faster. In this context, quality and enhanced facilities that are unavailable in paper format will fuel the future of electronic learning material.

Chats, blogs, Wikis, collaborative environments, assessment SW, podcasting, games, voting systems and more can be accessed on a laptop, palm device or cell phone—everywhere, anytime. Collaborative and cooperative technologies offer a particular contribution to the learning process. The trend is to create a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) where students can collaborate and cooperate. Thus, to allow all users to enjoy these services, accessibility and usability principles should be applied when preparing materials and developing the interactive environment. Unfortunately, accessibility and usability have not progressed at the same pace as technology, and special-needs users risk missing out on this great educational opportunity. In particular, visually-impaired students still encounter difficulties when using eLearning content, both on desktop computers and on mobile devices. Accessibility and usability are fundamental when designing any user interface, but they are crucial for e-Learning systems, since technological barriers can hinder learning. Technology can support learning if it does not require additional effort on the part of the user. Specifically, the interaction environment should be transparent for users in the sense that it should not interfere with the learning, or else the benefits of distance learning risk becoming worthless. When designing electronic learning materials (i.e. Learning Objects) and delivery systems (e.g. Learning Management Systems) it is crucial to identify the needs and requirements of the target community to create a system geared to the individual; based on user profiles, learning objects are delivered according to user ability). In this chapter we focus on the needs of blind persons who interact via screen reader with voice synthesizer. For effective, efficient and satisfactory design (i.e. usable according ISO 9241-11), developers must be aware of all the obstacles encountered by users aided by assistive technology and should map accessibility and usability criteria in eLearning systems from the very earliest stages of the design process.   Access the whole chapter: Distance Learning: New Opportunities for the Blind

External authors: Barbara Leporini (ISTI)
IIT authors:

Type: Article in bookchapter with an international publisher
Field of reference: Computer Science & Engineering

Activity: Accessibility and Usability of User Interfaces