Doing the right thing?

Charles B. Hodges

Charles B. Hodges

by Charles B. Hodges

I work in an environment where thousands of learners access web-based learning materials daily. Web-based learning is a major topic of research and discussion in the professional organizations to which I belong. I teach graduate-level instructional design courses, and I will soon be involved with undergraduate-level technology integration courses. Exploring the endless stream of new Web 2.0 tools that emerge and imagining (or reading in my friends’ blogs) how these might be used to facilitate learning is something I enjoy. Recently, I have found myself considering ethical issues surrounding all of these interests:

When designing instruction, how much attention should be given to making sure that instruction is accessible to all learners?

By accessible here I mean accessibility in terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In conversations with colleagues on this topic I have heard comments like: “If federal money is not involved, you don’t have to worry about accessibility.”, “Why worry about something that affects such a small number of people?”, “We’ll worry about accessibility when someone complains.”

These comments were both shocking and depressing to me at the same time. Shouldn’t we do the right thing for our learners, all of them? I often describe an instructional designer as being an advocate for the learners. I understand the difficulty involved with making accessible web-based materials. A great deal of my work has involved mathematics and the specialized symbols necessary for communicating mathematics brings the difficulty to the forefront quickly. I also understand the issues of cost during development in both time and money. However, for those that have commented to me about small numbers of people (which I am not sure I buy, by the way), I have tried to champion the case of accessibility makes for better usability for ALL. Who wouldn’t, for example, like to be able to search the text of a podcast for all the instances of a particular word or phrase?

For now I have decided to take a middle road — demonstrating emerging technologies and discussing clever and interesting uses of them for education, while at the same time making it clear that there are real issues regarding accessibility for many new web-based tools and services. Is this the right thing to do? I am starting to see eyes roll when I bring up accessibility and I think that is progress. My interpretation of the rolling eyes is “here we go again.” They must be starting to remember

Guest blogger: Chuck Hodges has worked in higher education for nearly 17 years, all in math departments. He has earned degrees in Mathematics (B.S., M.S.) and Instructional Design and Technology (Ph.D. from Virginia Tech). Currently, he wears many hats in his role as manager of the Virginia Tech Math Emporium: facilities manager, researcher, logistics expert, stand-up trainer, and learner advocate. He will soon be surrendering all of those hats to move south and be an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at Georgia Southern University.

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