Inclusion in an Electronic Classroom - 2000

Related Documents:

Proposal Submitted to the Office of Learning Technology:


With the recent increase in the popularity of Web based instruction and computer accessed information in general, it is becoming increasingly important for the electronic community to become aware of the barriers people with disabilities face in these virtual environments. As technologies emerge to deliver Web based instruction, it is also important to educate both courseware developers and educators of solutions they can apply to insure that persons with disabilities are not excluded from participating in this new and quickly developing form of education.

The objectives of this study are to: 1) investigate barriers faced by individuals in Web based learning environments, 2) educate the general public and governing bodies of accessibility issues associated with Web based instruction, 3) make recommendations to courseware developers on methods to increase their products support of accessible design, 4) to provide guidelines for course designers and instructors to ensure the accessibility of their curriculum materials.

The partners of this project are experts in the field of disability, education, assistive technology, and Web based instruction. Partners include the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre (ATRC), The Centre for Academic Technology (CAT), and the Special Needs Opportunity Windows Project (SNOW), each affiliated with the University of Toronto. Partners also include the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario (LDAO), and Bruce Landon, educator and researcher in the field of distance education and Web based delivered instruction.

The project is an extension of the work Bruce Landon conducted in 1998, which looked at the pedagogical aspects of Web Based courseware tools. Admittedly missing from his research is an assessment of the accessibility of these tools for learners with disabilities who might use them. To accomplish this assessment through the current study, two participants from each of four disability groups will be trained on appropriate assistive technologies and asked to create, and participate in mock online courses created in a number Web based courseware tools.

Participants in the study will represent the following disability groups: Blind, Vision Impaired, Mobility Impaired, and Learning Disabled. The technologies with which individuals of these groups will access the courseware tools will depend on the nature of their disabilities. Assistive technologies could include voice recognition, screen reading, screen enhancement, onscreen keyboards, or text-to-speech systems.

The results of this study will have implications for the future development of courseware, for training of educators who work in a Web setting with persons who have disabilities, and will raise awareness in the general public and governing bodies of issues associated with access to information by persons with disabilities.


Networks such as the Web, Intranets or dedicated broad band networks are being used to teach, to conduct research, to hold tutorials, to submit assignments and to act as libraries. The primary users of Web based instruction include universities, professional upgrading, employment training and lifelong learning. Those that can benefit most from this trend are learners with disabilities. Web based instruction is easily adapted to varying learning styles, rates, and communication formats. Issues of distance, transportation and physical access are reduced. Electronic text, unlike printed text, can be read by individuals who are blind, vision impaired, dyslexic and by individuals who cannot hold a book or turn pages.

Unfortunately, Web delivered education is not barrier free. A preliminary study conducted at the Centre for Academic Technology at the University of Toronto (1998) revealed that none of the currently available Web based courseware tools address accessibility. Given the rising popularity of online courses, this represents a serious threat to inclusion that must be corrected before courseware tools develop further.

Fortunately courseware tools or applications used to teach at a distance are in the early stages of development. If proactive steps are taken now, more inclusive design conventions can be established. A consortium of partners representing consumers, experts in the field, developers and leading providers of distance education will address these barriers. This project will be an extension of the research started by Dr. Bruce Landon, who assessed the pedagogical effectiveness of online educational delivery applications (see The tools that were previously assessed will be further assessed for their support of accessible design, from the perspective of administrator, designer or instructor, and student.



The purpose of this project is:

To make it possible for learners with disabilities to participate fully in Web based educational opportunities.

The objectives of the project are to:




Courseware demonstration server and software installation. The server will be set up on a Pentium II 350 PC with the Linux operating System, and installed at the ATRC. Courseware packages will be requisitioned from each of the 14 developers with the incentive of improving their product to reach the broadest audience, and inclusion of all those who access courses created with their products, with or without a disability. The 14 courseware tools assessed by Landon will be installed on the courseware server. Courseware tools will include Learning Space, WebCT, Top Class, Virtual-U, Web Course in a Box, CourseInfo, First Class, Norton Connect, Allaire Forum, Team Wave, WebBoard, Asymetrix ToolBook, Question Mark, and PlaceWare.

Additionally, three Pentium II 350 machines will be set up at the ATRC for user training and testing. Each machine will have installed one or more of the popular assistive technologies from the following categories: 1) Screen Readers (Jaws 3.2), 2) Screen Enhancers (ZoomText Extra), 3) Voice Recognition (Dragon Dictate), 4) On Screen Keyboards (Wivik), and 5) Text-to-Speech (TextHelp).

Time line: September 1, 1999 December 31, 1999

Greg Gay Ian Graham

Subject Selection:

The project administrators at each of the partner sites will collaborate on the selection of individuals to participate in the study. It is expected that two or three participants will be selected from three of the partner sites (CNIB, LDAO, ATRC), to represent a broad selection of disabilities. Criteria for selection include those with disabilities that might be expected to administer, design or instruct, or take an online course. Ages will span from 18 through 55. Individuals selected will either be enrolled or teaching at the college or university level and have a visual, mobility, or learning impairment. It is assumed that participants at this level will be of average or superior intelligence.

The selection process will occur through marketing of the selected disability groups, soliciting clientele of the partner organizations who are involved in higher education, Special Services departments within Colleges and Universities, and advocacy groups supporting persons with disabilities in the greater Toronto Area.

Time Line: September 15, 1999 December 31,1999

Laurie McArthur (ATRC) Carol Yaworski (LDAO) Karen Taylor (CNIB)

User Training:

The 8 participants will receive, in addition to basic Internet skills, training from ATRC staff on their respective assistive technologies, and training from the CAT staff on basic web based instructional design. Training will occur on average over a period of five to eight 3-hour sessions depending on the severity and type of disability, the type of assistive technology being used, and the participants experience with computers and the Internet. It is expected that most of the participants will be novice users requiring instruction in technologies and the Internet. Participants will be judged as proficient in their respective assistive technology, meeting the selection criteria, when they are independently able to navigate and participate in a currently accessible Web based course running through the SNOW project.

As a side effect, the resulting skills will benefit participants by increasing their qualifications or employability, and teach them skills to help them adapt their environment to their disability.

Time Line: January 1, 2000 June 15, 2000

Karen McCall (blind and low vision)

Laurie McArthur (mobility impairment and print impairment)

Laurie Harrison (Internet skills and instructional design)

Instrument development:

The instrument used to assess the accessibility of courseware tools will be based on the WAI Accessibility Guidelines, which outline recommendations for creating accessible Web based documents (Treviranus et al , 1999).

Time Line: January 1, 2000 June 15, 2000

Greg Gay Jutta Treviranus Bruce Landon

Observer Training: an independent observer will be trained to identify and distinguish between difficulties associated with the use of assistive technologies, and those associated with access to courseware tools. The observer will be trained on the relevant assistive and Web technologies by the ATRC and SNOW staff. Difficulties associated with the assistive technology will be identified when a participant is unable to access a courseware user interface when the assistive technology provides the means. Difficulties associated with access to courseware tools will be identified when the assistive technology will not access particular features of the courseware user interface.

Time Line: January 1, 2000 June 15, 2000

Greg Gay Laurie McArthur Observer

User Testing:

Each of the participants trained on their respective assistive technologies will create a course module in each of the courseware tools from pre-existing curriculum materials. Users will be assessed by the observer who will record their ease or difficulty in accessing each of the tools outlined by Landon (1998) at three levels: 1) as a course administrator, 2) as a course instructor or designer, and 3) as a student. In five to ten three hour sessions (depending on the rate at which the participant progresses), the trained observer will guide each participant through the creation and participation in a Web based course module using each of the courseware tools being assessed. A module is synonymous with a weekly class meeting in the traditional educational setting, providing course notes, discussions, resources, exercises, and testing.

Time Line: June15, 2000 - January 15, 2001

Greg Gay Observer


For each of the courseware tools assessed, quantitative data will be compiled in two scores for each category outlined by Landon (1998): a functionality score and an accessibility score, or the presence of pedagogical features and the extent to which each of these features support (or fails to support) access by individuals using assistive technologies.

Qualitative data collected in this study will be summarized for specific concerns stated by the disabled participants, providing first hand experience from which to base recommendations made to educators and courseware developers.

Time Line: January 1, 2001 - March 31, 2001

Greg Gay Ian Graham Jutta Treviranus Bruce Landon


Outlined below.

Time Line: Jan 1, 2001 - September 15, 2001

Greg Gay Bruce Landon Jutta Treviranus - Karen McCall - Karen Taylor- Carol Yaworski


For each of the courseware tools assessed, quantitative data will be compiled in two scores for each category outlined by Landon (1998). The total of all tools present represents a measure of functionality, and the extent to which tools support users of assistive technologies represents a measure of accessibility.

The rationale for this functionality/accessibility approach encompasses the pedagogy and accessibility of the tools in question. Since a highly accessible courseware tool with a small number of authoring utilities offers limited support for pedagogy, and a highly functional authoring tool that offers few accessibility concessions effectively promotes inaccessibility, designers and instructors must evaluate courseware tools on both dimensions. These scores will compliment the qualitative data already assembled by Landon (1998), providing educators and course designers with summary figures for quick comparisons of functionality and accessibility across courseware tools.

Qualitative data from interviews conducted with each participant following use of each tool will provide specific examples of inaccessible design in online education. The Distance Education Survey (DES), a standardized 88 item questionnaire developed in 1997 through the EvNet project at McMaster University, will be adapted to the Web to gather participants personal information. The DES questions participants about their experience with distance education, learning preferences, access to computers, and personal attitudes towards computers, providing additional qualitative data on participants attitudes and beliefs (see Qualitative data will be summarized to provide specific case studies for educators and courseware developers.


First, results from this study will be disseminated among the developers of the courseware tools assessed in this study, making them aware of the issues surrounding accessibility, and methods to increase the accessibility of their products.

Secondly, additions will be made to the "landonline" site, where Landon's results are currently published. This will include the addition of functionality and accessibility data to be merged into the qualitative data already present. The site will be publicized through the traffic on the SNOW and ATRC Web sites, whose primary audiences are educators and individuals with disabilities. The sites will be publicized through each of the major Internet search engines, formatting search criteria to reach a broader general population.

Thirdly, results will be disseminated through the marketing system set up for SNOW. This includes distribution to list-servers, email lists, and Usenet groups associated with adult education, special needs, web-based instruction, and Internet development.

Fourthly, a summary of the study and its results will be submitted for publication to the major journals associated with research in adult education, special needs, Web based instruction, and Internet development.

Results will be merged into the authoring guidelines currently being developed for forth and fifth generation web browsers, through the W3C WAI group. These guidelines reach those responsible for creating and developing technologies for the Web.



  1. Adaptive Technology Resource Centre at the University of Toronto (ATRC)

  2. Contribution
    Project management
    Staff training
    Participant selection
    User training
    User testing

  3. Centre for Academic Technology at the University of Toronto (CAT)

  4. Contribution
    Technical support
    Research staff

  5. Special Needs Opportunity Windows Project (SNOW)

  6. Contribution
    Technical support
    Research Staff
    Dissemination of results

  7. Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario (LDAO)

  8. Contribution
    Participant selection
    Dissemination of results

  9. Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB)

  10. Contribution
    Participant selection
    Dissemination of results

  11. Bruce Landon Ph.D.

  12. Contribution
    Instrument Development
    Data Analysis
    Dissemination of results