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Online Courses Reducing Equal Opportunity

http://chronicle.com/article/Blind-Students-Demand-Access/125695

I have argued that online courses are not equivalent to traditional spaces and often are more of a barrier than an accommodation for students with special needs. I remain skeptical that online spaces can be made flexible enough to accommodate all students. Nor, honestly, do I believe it is right of universities to suggest to many disabled students that online courses are somehow better for them.

In the case of blind students, clearly the online spaces aren't working as planned.

For students with limited mobility, maybe online is a good alternative, but I found them less engaging and harder to comprehend. Right now, we don't consider the pedagogical implications carefully enough, but I also understand the rush to online spaces is an economic necessity for some institutions.

Since I have difficulty with mobility as well as some cognitive differences, my views of online education are biased. I like the convenience, but that doesn't mean I learn more effectively. Online simply becomes "easier" in that it allows me to avoid the challenges I should be learning to overcome.

Colleges Lock Out Blind Students Online; By Marc Parry
More than 19,000 people have visited a new student union that Arizona State University put up last year to build a better sense of campus community.
Darrell Shandrow, a blind senior studying journalism, can't get through the front door.
He's stuck because the new social hub is built of bits, not bricks—a private Facebook application for Arizona State students. And, like so much technology used by colleges, the software doesn't work with the programs that blind people depend on to navigate the Web.
The rush to online spaces needs to be examined more critically.

The Chronicle, after more than two dozen interviews and a review of federal records and recent research, found widespread access problems like that.
Some other examples:
College Web pages are "widely inaccessible" to people with disabilities, according to a recent National Science Foundation-backed study that looked at 127 institutions in the Northwest over five years. A recent study of 183 colleges, nationwide, found similar problems.
Many colleges have no centralized way to ensure that online courses comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, says a November report from the Campus Computing Project and the Wiche Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications.
At one of the country's most prominent public institutions, Pennsylvania State University, blind students and professors suffer "pervasive and ongoing discrimination" because of inaccessible campus technology, says a federal complaint filed in November by the country's largest organization of blind people. The complaint names problem areas that include Penn State's library catalog, departmental Web sites, and, crucially, its "almost totally inaccessible" course-management software.
At Arizona State last year, advocates including Mr. Shandrow sued the institution over its use of Amazon's Kindle e-reader, which lacked audible menus for blind people. Arizona State agreed that it would strive to use accessible devices if it deployed e-book readers in classes over the next two years.
"In a number of respects, blind students are at a greater disadvantage today than they were 20 years ago," says Daniel F. Goldstein, counsel to the National Federation of the Blind, who filed the complaint against Penn State. (Both that university and Arizona State have responded to complaints by stating that they are committed to accessible learning for all.)

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