WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

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New topic: perception versus reality


From: Oliver Burmeister
Date: Mar 26, 2003 5:38PM

Dear All

I propose a new thread.

Last year at OzeWAI http://www.ozewai.org/ I co-presented in the educational
track on how to make materials distributed online accessible to students. In
the process of preparing for this presentation I discovered something I had
not been aware of. To put this in context, I presented with 2 others, one
person who is completely blind, the other who was an industry person selling
web management products to the education market. Basically we did a role
play. I pretended to be the dumb lecturer who put up various types of
documents for my students (Word, html, pdf, etc). My blind friend pretended
to be my student and showed how inaccessible my material was. Then the 3 of
us showed how the material could have been produced to be accessible.

This role play came out of experiences I'd had in teaching an intermediate
java subject to several hundred students in semester 2 last year, including
3 students with disabilities (one physical, one hearing and one blind).

What was interesting for me in preparing the presentation, occurred when I
sought help from my blind java student. One of the documents I had produced
during the semester, that he said was accessible to him, I wanted to use as
an example of what academics should do to make documents accessible. To my
surprise I discovered that when I saw, visually, what the form of the
document was, as he 'read' it on his machine, I realised for the first time
that there is a significant difference between perception and reality.

You are probably confused about what I mean. Let me try to explain it
better. I had a Word document with graphics, tables and text. The student
had processed the document through technology that made it accessible to
him. He appeared to understand what the document required and said it was
accessible to him. Hence during the semester I took him at his word and was
satisfied that he had the equivalent information of other students. But when
I was preparing the OzeWAI presentation (after the semester was over) and
got his version of the document I realised that a lot of the structure and
content was changed and making connections in how the material related
together would be much more difficult in the format he had. His PERCEPTION
was that he was getting the equivalent of other students. I presume he
thought my document structures and writing style was just very poor and that
all students had to put up with my poor language skills (some of you
probably think that now, trying to understand this long waffle). I had too
readily during the semester accepted him at his word that he was
understanding materials distributed to all students. Had I taken more of an
interest during the semester in what he actually did to 'read' the
documents, I would have realised in time to be of more help to him, that the
REALITY of what he was getting, was an inferior product.

So how does this affect you? Well for example the WAI guidelines. We use
them to present material and make it accessible. But how can we be sure that
just because it is accessible that there is equality of experience for our
users? Perhaps you can think of other examples?



Oliver Burmeister
Swinburne Computer-Human Interaction Laboratory (SCHIL)
School of Information Technology
Swinburne University of Technology
PO Box 218, Hawthorn, Victoria 3122
(T) +61 3 9214 8304
(F) +61 3 9214 5501
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