CaptionMax has a dedicated Consumer Advisory Board with experts in all kinds of accessibility. As guest bloggers, we ask our board members to share their accessibility stories. Our next CAB guest blogger is Joya Bromeland, a 6th year itinerant teacher for blind and visually impaired students. Joya works with many different schools to make technology accessible to all students. In the past year, she has been developing this great resource to empower classroom teachers. She has been great enough to share it; so head on over and check it out! Take it away, Joya.
I’m one of Louis Braille’s biggest fans, and providing braille and braille instruction continues to be an important part of my job, but the multi-media classroom of the 21st century requires that my students who are blind and visually impaired be just as skilled in areas of technology, self-advocacy and creative problem-solving in order to have basic access to classroom tools.
As an itinerant Teacher for students who are Blind and Visually Impaired (TBVI), I collaborate with teachers in roughly 18 different schools to ensure that our students have access to the same instructional materials, experiences, and opportunities as their sighted peers. It’s an ambitious and necessary goal that leads to alternative pathways to access and success: braille, tactile graphics, refreshable braille displays, speech screenreaders, audiobooks, audio description, keyboard shortcuts, video magnification and more.
I start with the assumption that every element of the curriculum can be accessed nonvisually—whether it’s Algebraic graphs, diagrams of the moon phases, PowerPoint assignments and board work, websites, Twitter, Moodle, email, newspapers, books, abstract visual concepts, and videos. Then, through collaboration with general ed. teachers, braillists, and my fellow TBVIs, we figure out a way to make it happen through accessible formats and specialized instruction.
Our students become experts at thinking outside the box, maneuvering around it, giving it a good kick every once in a while—all inherent to the process of full and independent participation at school among their sighted peers. It’s not surprising we work with such great students (and I can’t wait to see what they bring to our future!)
Of course there are daily bumps in the road to access. There are days when I am on the phone trying to reach publishers of an online textbook because their “accessible version” of the book is not accessible to my students. Or I’m sending accessibility standards to the “Contact Us” links on websites after a frustrating session with a student that probably led to me scanning, pasting, or retyping the web text because it was inaccessible via screen reader. And this spring, we TBVIs will continue the campaign for reducing bias and providing equal access to standardized tests for our students. But more and more we have the law to back up our expectations for accessibility with ADA, IDEA, NIMAS, and now the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act.
Currently, there is limited availability of audio described videos for specific curriculum, though these videos are being produced by educational publishers and used by teachers at increasing rates. Working with my students, I understand the value in providing vivid audio descriptions with accurate vocabulary in the 5-minute science video shown at the beginning of class, or the history video shown to build context for a unit of study. Access to AD video leads to opportunity for my students to develop the same level of awareness and understanding of concepts as their sighted peers. Publishers and schools need to act on this value in order to make audio description a real possibility in the classroom.
I’ve really appreciated the resources CaptionMax has made available to teachers in Minnesota to help spread the word about Audio Description and teach us how to access it. It’s also been exciting to be a part of the Consumer Advisory Board, where we experience some of the rigorous process that goes into high quality audio describing. I’m hopeful that the Video Accessibility Act and the committed work of CaptionMax will lead to greater availability of these videos and ultimately greater access and opportunity for our students.