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To teach is to nurture and the best metaphor for the mind is to see it as a garden

Fig. 1. My own vision of education as nurturing – like growing plants in a garden

‘Her metaphor for the brain is that of a garden, that’s full of the most interesting,  different things that have to be constantly cultivated and constantly checked‘.  This was Kirsty Young  introducing her guest, Professor Uta Frith. (01:24 into the transmission, BBC Radio 4 2013)

Professor Uta Frith of University College London was on Desert Island Discs for the second time this week  – this time round I paid close attention. I then went to the BBC website and took notes.

Having recently completed the Open University postgraduate module H810 Accessible Online Learning and of course interested in education, this offers insights on what studying autism and dyslexia tells us about the human mind.

There’s more in another BBC broadcast – Uta Frith interviewed for the BBC’s Life Scientific – Broadcast 6 Dec 2011 accessed 1st March 2013 – and available, by the way,  until January 2099 should you not be able to find time and want your dyslexic grandchildren to listen.

The difference between someone who is autistic and the rest of us is how we each of us see the world.

‘We learn by taking different perspectives – something about ourselves which we otherwise would have never known’. Uta Frith (2013)

‘Take what’s given to you and make the best of it, but of course the cultivation is key to all of these things, so culture in our lives, learning from other people … these are the really, really important things’. Uta Frith (2013)

We may all have some of this in us.

Genetic factors matter.

‘How we are raised is a myth. It is not right. It has been so very harmful. It is a illusion to think that doing the right things, for example that you get from books, that you can change things.’ Uta Frith (2013)

Then from BBC’s Life Scientific

‘A passionate advocate of neuroscience and how its findings can be used in the classroom to improve learning. She hopes that eventually neuroscience will inform education in the same way that anatomy informs medicine’. (01:35 in, BBC 2013)

Uta Firth wants knowledge of the brain to inform education the way knowledge of the body informs medicine.

Professor Uta Frith is best known for her research on autism spectrum disorders. Her book, Autism, Explaining the Enigma (1989) has been translated into many languages. She was one of the initiators of the study of Asperger’s Syndrome in the UK and her work on reading development, spelling and dyslexia has been highly influential.

Throughout her career she has been developing a neuro-cognitive approach to developmental disorders.

In particular, she has investigated specific cognitive processes and their failure in autism and dyslexia. Her aim is to discover the underlying cognitive causes of these disorders and to link them to behavioural symptoms as well as to brain systems. She aims to make this research relevant to the education of people with development disorders and to contribute to a better quality of their everyday life.

The above profile form the UCL pages

Further Reading/Viewing

Uta Frith on YouTube on early years, then on dyslexia

Frith, U (1989/2003) Autism – explaining the enigma (second edition)

Frith, U (2008) Autism – a very short introduction


Uta Frith, Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, Transmission accessed 1st March 2013

Uta Frith, The Life Scientific, BBC Radio 4, from BBC website as a podcast (accessed 1st March 2013

University College London, Staff. Website (accessed 1st March 2013)


When reading we need a perspective of what has been and what is coming up.

Before you get stuck,  a  couple of definitions:

Parafoveal = dependent on parts of the retina external to the fovea. The fovea is a small rodless area of the retina that affords acute vision.

SACCADE  = that small rapid jerky movement of the eye  as it jumps from fixation on one point to another (as in reading) Merriam-Webster

What follows is about the use of word-accurate eye-tracking technology to help understand how we read – I find it most revealing in relation to Dyslexia.

During reading of English, information is effectively used from three to four letters to the left and up to 14–15 letters to the right of fixation (McConkie & Rayner, 1975, 1976).

If you’ve got an eBook if you don’t already, go for this kind of seting:

Reducing the window to thirteen characters increases the fixation duration by 30 percent, decreases the saccade length for forward saccades by 26 percent, and increases reading time by 60 percent, as compared to a window size of 100 character spaces. (McConkie & Rayner, 1975)

Parafoveal preview starts the identification process of a word before fixation.

If I understand what follows correctly it means that it is easy to read phrases and sentences as part of a body of text, than it is to read one word at a time in isolation.

We get a perspective of what has been and what is coming up.

Our results suggest that previewing word n2 can result in delayed parafoveal-on-foveal effects, which are lagging behind or spilling over into postboundary fixations on word n1. The present findings do not disconfirm the general hypothesis of serial word-processing during reading, but they strongly suggest that mislocated fixations are not sufficient to account for the complex dynamics of processing in the perceptual span during reading. (McConkie & Rayner, 1975)

In this article, research on the following topics are reviewed with respect to reading:

  • (a) the perceptual span (or span of effective vision),
  • (b) preview benefit,
  • (c) eye movement control, and
  • (d) models of eye movements. (Rayner, 2009 p. 1456).

This makes sense if you watch very closely as someone reads. I’ve not done this since I was a child, watching a parent or grandparent read. Children struggle when they plod as if from one stepping stone to another. I wonder if it would be better for the child to skim read and get a sense of the story rather than reading it word for word?

It is my contention that most of the time in such tasks, either (a) eye location (overt attention) and covert attention are overlapping and at the same location or (b) attention disengagement is a product of a saccade programme (wherein attention precedes the eyes to the next saccade target). (Rayner, 2009 p. 1458).

In reading, for example, the line of text that the reader is looking at can be divided into three regions: the foveal region (2 degrees in the centre of vision), the parafoveal region (extending from the foveal region to about 5 degrees on either side of fixation), and the peripheral region (everything beyond the parafoveal region). (Rayner, 2009 p. 1459).

Saccade duration, the amount of time that is takes to actually move the eyes, is a function of the distance moved. (Rayner, 2009 p. 1459).

NB. Saccade size in visual search can be highly variable depending on the complexity of the array; when the array is complex and crowded, saccades are shorter (the same would hold for a highly complex scene). (Rayner, 2009 p. 1460).

Regressions (saccades that move backwards in the text) are the third important component of eye movements in reading and occur about 10–15% of the time in skilled readers. The long saccades just mentioned tend to follow a regression since readers typically move forward in the text past the point from which they originally launched the regression.Most regressions are to the immediately preceding word, though when comprehension is not going well or the text is particularly difficult, more long-range regressions occur to earlier words in the text. (Rayner, 2009 p. 1460).

Variables include (Rayner, 2009 p. 1460) :

  • text difficulty
  • reading skill
  • characteristics of the writing system
  • typographical variation (font)

– as text gets more difficult, fixations get longer, saccades get shorter, and more regressions are made (Rayner, 1998).

Dyslexics suffer from – longer fixations, shorter saccades, and more regressions – with normal text.

i.e. Bugger around with fonts, choice of words and other typographical variations and you start to replicate what it is like to be dyslexic.

Beginning and dyslexic readers have longer fixations, shorter saccades, and more regressions than skilled readers (Rayner, 1998), as do less skilled readers (Ashby, Rayner, & Clifton, 2005).

  • Function words are skipped
  • Fix is greater on longer words – 8 letter words are almost always fixated, 2 letter words are fixated 25% of the time.

How does this inform us of best practice for reading academic texts?

Read through with equal care more than once?

Skim read, the read with focus … or these three then stop and take notes. Or take notes from the start?

It is also clear that the spaces between words (which demarcate how long words are) are used in targeting where the next saccade will land. When spaces are removed, reading slows down by as much as 30–50% (Morris, Rayner, & Pollatsek, 1990; Pollatsek & Rayner, 1982; Rayner et al., 1998a; Rayner & Pollatsek, 1996; Spragins, Lefton, & Fisher, 1976). (Rayner, 2009 p. 1469).

  • How were manuscripts laid out?
  • What do early print look like?
  • When did the need for spaces, sentences, paragraphs and such like develop?

There’s a science to writing as well as an art.

Over the past few years, it has become very clear that the ease or difficulty associated with processing the fixated word strongly influences when the eyes move (Liversedge & Findlay, 2000; Rayner, 1998; Starr & Rayner, 2001). (Rayner, 2009 p. 1472).

Fixation time on a word is influenced by a host of lexical and linguistic variables (Rayner, 2009 p. 1472):

  • word frequency
  • word predictability
  • number of meanings
  • age of acquisition
  • phonological properties
  • semantic relations with the fixed word and previous words

This is consistent with the view that what influences when to move the eyes during reading is different from visual search. (Rayner, 2009 p. 1472)

To what degree is reading a visual process or a cognitive process?

This debunks Marshall McLuhan theorising about the shift from the meaning of words in an oral tradition compared to the written word.

When raeding wrods with jubmled lettres and found that while it was fairly easy to read such text, there was always a cost associated with transposing the letters. (Rayner, 2009 p. 1473)

It is thus quite clear that lexical variables have strong and immediate effects on how long readers look at a word. While other linguistic variables can have an influence on how soon readers move on in the text, it is generally the case that higher level linguistic variables have somewhat later effects, unless the variable more or less“smacks you in the eye”. So, for example, when readers fixate on the disambiguating word in asyntactic garden path sentence there is increased fixation time on the word (Frazier & Rayner,1982; Rayner, Carlson, & Frazier, 1983; Rayner & Frazier, 1987) and/or a regression from the disambiguating word back to earlier parts of the sentence (Frazier & Rayner, 1982; Meseguer, Carreiras, & Clifton, 2002; Mitchell et al., 2008). (Rayner, 2009 p. 1473)

On the other hand, it is certainly the case that more and more researchers are turning to eye movement recording and data as a means to examine important issues about how the brain/mind handles information in various tasks. Many brain imaging techniques now enable researchers to also record eye movements(though rather crudely), and attempts to simultaneously record eye movements and event related potentials in reading and other tasks look very promising (Baccino & Manunta, 2005;Dambacher & Kliegl, 2007; Sereno & Rayner,2003). Thus, the future looks very bright with respect to the possibility of learning more about cognitive processing and how information is processed in the tasks described above via the use of eye movements. (Rayner, 2009 p. 1487)


McConkie, G. W., & Rayner, R. (1975). The span of the effective stimulus during a fixation in reading. Perception & Psychophysics, 17, 578–586. doi:10.3758/BF03203972

Rayner (1998)
(Ashby, Rayner & Clifton, 2005)

Rayner, K 2009, ‘Eye movements and attention in reading, scene perception, and visual search’, Quarterly Journal Of Experimental Psychology, 62, 8, pp. 1457-1506, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 11 February 2013.

On creating an online learning resource for dyslexic swimming teachers

Breaststroke arms – getting it right

What is the problem?
A number of common problems occur in breaststroke as swimmers move from teaching into competitive swimming – these include raising the head too high so dropping the hips, pulling the arms passed the shoulders towards the hips on every stroke, and a screw kick. In this learning object we look at fixing the arms.

Who are we talking to?

Those who teach or coach swimming in UK swimming clubs. Typically volunteers with the  Level 1 Assistant Teaching Aquatics Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) qualification or Level 2 Teaching Aquatics, as well as those with coaching qualifications. The differences here relates to the developmental stage of the swimmer, whether they are being taught to swim in a teaching group, or coached to swim faster in a skills group. Personnel records held by clubs should identify the medical conditions and disabilities of all members, including the coaching staff.

Dyslexic pupils learn in a different way to non-dyslexic pupils, so that any support should be dyslexia specific and offered on a one-to-one basis. Putting dyslexia pupils in a remedial group for slow learners and other special needs will not be appropriate. In addition, dyslexia occurs independently of IQ and should not be equated with low ability.

Ten percent (10%) of the British population are dyslexic; 4% severely so.
British Dyslexia Association http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/

Colour Tints and overlays

Around 35-40% of people with dyslexia suffer with a visual stress difficulty where text appears to move around or look distorted in some way.

Coloured filters, either as overlays or glasses with coloured tinted lenses have been found to helpful. Coloured filters will help to make the text visually clearer and more comfortable to see, and therefore can aid the learning process, but they will not teach a child to read. To be effective, an individual will need assessing to find the precise colour tint.


Eyes and Dyslexia

Around 35-40% of people with dyslexic difficulties are estimated to experience visual disturbance or discomfort when reading print. They may experience one or several of the following:

  • Blurred letters or words which go out of focus.
  • Letters which move or present with back to front appearance or shimmering or shaking.
  • Headaches from reading.
  • Words or letters which break into two and appear as double.
  • Find it easier to read large, widely spaced print, than small and crowded.
  • Difficulty with tracking across the page.
  • Upset by glare on the page or over sensitive to bright lights.

In some cases any of these symptoms can significantly affect reading ability. It can also make reading very tiring. Of course a child will not necessarily recognise what they see as a problem, as this is how they always see text.

If a child complains of a least one of these problems or has difficulty at school, they should be referred to an optometrist or orthoptist with expertise in this particular field.

Many dyslexic people are sensitive to the glare of white backgrounds on a page, whiteboard or computer screen. This can make the reading of text much harder.

  • The use of cream or pastel coloured backgrounds can mitigate this difficulty as can coloured filters either as an overlay or as tinted reading glasses. – People with reading difficulties sometimes have a weakness in eye co-ordination or focussing and an eyecare practitioner might recommend treating this with eye exercises or glasses. If these problems are present, they should be detected and treated before coloured filters are prescribed.
  • Research in the UK and in Australia shows that people who need coloured filters, who are said to have visual stress, need to have exactly the right colour. Many optometrists and orthoptists use a special instrument, the Intuitive Colorimeter, to determine the exact colour that is necessary for coloured glasses.
  • The choice of colour of text on white backgrounds can also affect clarity e.g. using red on a whiteboard can render the text almost invisible for some dyslexic students. For information on dyslexia friendly text see Dyslexia Style Guide sheet.

Talks on Dyslexia http://www.dystalk.com/

What do we want to say?

Correctly identify the fault through careful observation of the swimmer, employ a variety of exercises and drills to address the fault, use the whole-part-whole approach to isolate parts of the stroke and put it together again. Relate the stroke to the rules governing competitive swimming and the most efficient way physiologically for a person to swim the stroke.

How do we want to say it?

In a way that communicates clearly to the broadest users and therefore includes those with the kinds of disabilities that present themselves in swimming teachers and coaches – such as dyslexia. As well as supporting swimmers who may wish to use the resource who have impairments in relation to vision, hearing, mobility and cognition.

How do we want them to respond to this?

That was very useful. I was able to extract from this learning object the knowledge I required either to fix faulty arms in breaststroke or to improve my own swimming.

What else do we need to know?

Increasingly smartphones are becoming the handheld tool of choice that offer swimming teachers and coaches the opportunity to pick up advice and suggestions on best practice poolside as they prepare for, between, or after swimming sessions. The learning object should be scalable to multiple devices – desktop, laptop, and touch screen tablets and smartphones. A downloadable PDF version for eBooks would also be of value as these too are being deployed poolside to assist teachers and to display content to swimmers.

The Learning Object is a post on the WordPress blogging platform.

It uses the theme Blaksan which is a sharp, minimalist black sans serif text on a white background. There are options to have one, two or three column displays and for a fee to alter the fonts, colours and background. It is a responsive layout that works well on multiple devices.  It is the work of designer Per Sandstrom. http://www.helloper.com/

There are 17 parts, 9 images and 2,752 words. The language is non–technical, written in short clear sentences that those at this level of swimming teaching or coaching will understand. Images, diagrams and tables are carefully explained thought not offered in alternative text versions. There is a simple narrative logic to the running order that gives the purpose of the object and what it sets out to do. The content goes from fault identification to fix and progresses from simple to advanced. Gagne’s nine instructional steps are followed.

Viewing can be enhanced with browser web tools. A screen reader will pick up the text and descriptions of the images.

It is a resource, a blog post, not a activity. There are non interactive components. It would have been nice to show a video clip, to have audio options built in say to explain the table and chart. I would like to have added a multichoice question component.

2). Compare this to a similar blog post and a Xerte learning object.


3). Evaluate the accessibility of your resource, identifying its strengths and weaknesses.

You could describe this as a universal design as it uses a platform that is readily available. Whilst there are theme choices, some which would make the text, images and layout less accessible there were none offered with accessibility in mind. To improve that accessibility would require at least some work on the code, or migrating the text to a disability designed platform such as Xerte.


4). Propose, with justification, ways in which its accessibility could be improved. (This could include suggesting alternatives.)

The rebuild in Xerte produced a refined and simplified expression of the blog post. The same logical sequence of identifying then fixing a fault was offered however in this instance the simple, clear dashboard buttons of Xerte allow the use to select a background colour and text colour so adjusting with ease the contrast levels which would assist someone who is Dyslexic while point size adjustments would immediately permit someone with a modest visual impairment to follow the text.

Design to guidelines, following the WCAG 2.0 Code.


  • 1 Perceivable
  • 2 Operable
  • 3 Understandable
  • 4 Robust


  • 1 (perceivable) Provide text alternatives for any non-text so that it can be changed into other formats people needs such as large print, brail, speech, symbols or simpler language.
  • 2P Provide alternatives for time-based media
  • 3P Create content that can be presented in different ways (for example simpler layout) without losing information or structure.
  • 4P Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from backgound
  • 5 (operable) Make all funciontality available from a keyboard
  • 6O Provide users enough time to read and use content.
  • 7O Do no design content in a way that is known to cause seizure.
  • 😯 Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and deteremine where they are.
  • 9 (understandable) Make text content readable and understandabls
  • 10U Make Web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
  • 11U Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
  • 12 (robust) Maximize compatibility with current and futre user agents, including assistive technologies

5). Reflect on the processes of creating and evaluating accessible resources.

For good design in anything ‘form follows function’ an idea expressed by minimalist architects such as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Alva Aalto, Mies van der Rohe and Gerrit Rietveld. Keeping web design simple has its proponents too, not least Jakob Neilsen (2000). This applies to those seeking an approach to accessibility through universal design too – clarity of expression, the marriage of text and images in a logical learning sequence denotes usability. These minamilist architects spoke of ‘ornament as a crime’ – which in the context of e-learning design would count against interactivity as an indulgence.

Any learning curve, shallow or steep, is exactly that and we each react differently to a new platform when it is presented. I gave Xerte a go but struggled so decided instead to use a blog post in WordPress to compile the content, and where I could with themes, layout and other choices do what I could to makes this more rather than less accessible. In reality it is a blog post like any other with little provision for greater accessibility other than adding text to describe the images and charts.

A good deal can be done here, writing in short, clear sentences, avoid jargon and keeping to a logical sequences with clear headings and subheadings – all good practice for everyday web usability and use of English.

Paciello (2005) argues that engaging users and applying usability inspection methods are the cornerstones for ensuring universal accessibility. But that automated testing on its own is ‘incapable of emulating true user experience’. Paciello (2005:01) The best solution to ensuring accessible user experience (AUE) involves a combination of automated testing tools, expert usability inspections and controlled task user testing. Seale et al. (2006)

What next in WordPress?

With the Custom Design upgrade you can make your blog look and feel exactly the way you want.Customize the fonts in your theme with ease, apply a custom color palette and background pattern, or dive into CSS to make all the presentational changes you desire.

A straightforward theme for WordPress was chosen that is less cluttered than its predecessor.Tips on writing about an image, graph or table were taken from UKAAC.

A version was created in Xerte – this forced my hand, obliging considered editing of the text and images down to the essentials. Although in the time I managed some of the basic skills creating a logical sequence of 12 pages with a selection of supportive images, I was unable to establish how to load a piece of Creative Commons video, or to create an activity, such as multi-choice questions both which would have contributed to making it a piece of accessible interactive learning, rather than simply a resource.

6). Use the research and practice literature to explain and understand your experiences of these processes.


When designing for accessibility there are two potentially contradicting approaches – user centred design (UCD) or universal design (UD), with an important caveat, unless the design is also usable, then accessibility remains worthless (Sloan and Stratford, 2004)

UCD puts the focus on the needs perceived or observed of a single student, rather like an author writing with one reader in mind, as Kurt Vonnegut put in 1999 ‘Write to please just one person’. The designer here needs to have in their minds eye just one persona, one construction of a student using their resource who has a set of traits based on their gender, age, socio-economic background, level of educational achievement, personality, educational track record and any disabilities to take into consideration. The view with UCD is that no single design is likely to satisfy all different learner needs. The classic example given to support this argument is the perceived conflict between the needs of those who are blind and  those who have cognitive disabilities. For example, the dyslexic’s desire for effective imagery and short text would appear to contradict the blind user’s desire for strong textural narrative and little imagery. However, Bohman (2003b) provides a counterbalance to this argument stating that while the visual elements may be unnecessary for those who are blind, they are not harmful to them. As long as alternative text is provided for these visual elements, there is no conflict. Kelly et al (2004) argue that since accessibility is primarily about people and not about technologies it is inappropriate to seek a universal solution and that rather than aiming to provide an e-learning resource which is accessible to everyone there can be advantages in providing resources which are tailored to the student’s particular needs.

UCD follows three principles (Barnum 2002b, Luke 2002; Gould and Lewes 1985) that 

  1. Early focus on users and their tasks
  2. Measures aspects of ease of use throughout
  3. Is iterative design – i.e. there are repeated cycles of design, test, redesign and retest.

According to Barnum (2002) UCD encourages designers to:

  1. gather information from users before product development begins
  2. identify tasks that users will want to perform before product development begins
  3. include users in the product development process
  4. use an iterative product development life cycle.

At the most extreme degree of disability the BBC recently reported (BBC 4 13th November 2012 of a man in a vegetative state for 10 years who has been able to communicate that he is in no pain. Vanderheiden speculated(2007:152) that research on direct brain control would soon allow such patients to control devices in their environment. Designing for such a learner, because it pushes the boundaries of what has been done before, would be revealing and have broader applications.

Universal design (UD) is the process of creating products (devices, environments, systems, and processes), which are usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities, operating within the widest possible range of situations (environments, conditions, and circumstances) Vanderheiden (1996) although he also argues that ‘it is not possible, however, to create a product, which is usable by everyone under all circumstances’. Striving for UD results in simplicity which in turn favours usability – if this is done with disability in mind a better product will be developed that also serves the needs of all users including those who are not disabled. Thompson (2005) argues that ‘providing a clear, simple design, including a consistent and intuitive navigational mechanism, benefits a variety of users with disabilities’ – more than this inclusion not only favours disabled people, but also socially disadvantaged affected by financial, educational, geographic and other features. (Gappa et al. 2004). On the other hand, the reality is that those who aim for UD are aiming to design for a majority, rather than all (Witt and MCDermott, 2004; Bonham, 2003). There is a caveat to UD – Seale (2006) feels that there are some who feel uncomfortable with the principles of UD because they appear to relieve educators of the responsibility of addressing individual student needs. Central to the idea of UD is a commitment that products should not have to be modified or adapted – yet that is exactly what designers ought to consider offering to disabled students – the opportunity, with plugins, Apps or browser controls, to modify a universal design to suit their needs. Thompson (2005) also believes that this is how web content that is accessible to the broadest possible audience using a wide variety of input and output technologies. Whilst Bilotta (2005) believes the claims of UD are over-done, that web accessibility techniques can never replace true inclusive user centre design. With the growing use of a plethora of mobile devices – smartphones and tablets, there is a growing expectation and demand for web content to be equally accessible to all on these devices – the developing use of HTML 5 permits ‘responsive’ design where content designed once for one platform adjusts iteslf as it appears on a different device.

The need to design with various assistive technologies in mind also negates the universal design approach, in guideline nine of WCAG-1 it is suggested that designers use features that enable activation of page elements via a variety of input devices. For Yu (2003) these are issues in relation to the law and accessibility, while Vanderheiden et al (1997) speculated on when assistive technology used to improve screen readers would have wider use in society – some 15 years on, voice recognition and screen reading is commonplace, so much so that in new Apple products they are shipped as standard to the operating system. OS X for example comes with a variety of assistive technologies to help those with vision disabilities, including a built-in screen reader, screen and cursor magnification, high-contrast settings, and more. (Apple, 2012)

The compromise between UD and UCD is to design for adaptability – allow and expect users to configure the application to meet their needs (Owens and Keller 2000; Arditi  2004) enabling the application to make adaptation to transform seamlessly in order to meet the needs of the user (Stephanidis et al. 1998; Cooper et al. 2000; Hanson and Richards 2004; Alexandraki et al. 2004). Alexandraki et al describe  the ‘eAccessibility Engine’, a tool which employs adaptation techniques to automatically render web pages accessible by users with different types of disabilities. Specifically it was capable of transforming web pages (at that time) to attain conformance to Section 508 standards and ‘AAA’ conformance to Web Content Accessibility Guidlins. Whilst Cooper et al (2000) points out that people have different needs when seeking to use a computer to facilitate any activity, research by Seale and Draffan a decade later (2010:458) indicates that students with disabilities also show considerable agility at negotiation the affordances of various computing devices and that ‘the dual inclusion in the context of disabled learners does not always have to be understood through the dual lenses of deficits and barriers’. Which rather makes me think that following the web design principles that Neilsen (2000) set out a decade ago will suffice : effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction can be achieved by following four main design principles: make the site’s purpose clear, help users find what they need, reveal site content and use visual design to enhance, not define, interaction design.

Usability and accessibility are different as Powlik and Karshmer (2002:218) point out: ‘To assume accessibility equates to usability is the equivalent of saying that broadcasting equates to effective communication’.


Apple (2012) OS X Accessibility. http://www.apple.com/accessibility/macosx/vision.html (Last accessed 20 Nov 2012)

Arditi, A. (2004) Adjustable typography: an approach to enhancing low vision text accessibility. Ergonomics, 47, 5, 469–482.

Barnum, C. (2002a). The ‘magic number 5’. Information Design Journal & Document Design, 11(2/3), 160-170.

Barnum, C. (2002b) Usability Testing and Research. New York: Longman. http://www.ablongman.com/barnum

Bilotta, J. A. (2005) Over-done: when web accessibility techniques replace true inclusive user centred design. Paper presented at CSUN ’05, Los Angeles, 17–19 March 2005. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.csun.edu/ cod/ conf/ 2005/ proceedings/ 2283.htm> (last accessed 17 Nov 2012).

Bohman, P. (2003) Introduction to web accessibility. Online. Available HTTP: http://www.webaim.org/ intro/ (last accessed 16 November 2012).

Cooper, M., Valencia, L. P. S., Donnelly, A. and Sergeant, P. (2000) User interface approaches for accessibility in complex World-Wide Web applications – an example approach from the PEARL project. Paper presented at the 6th ERCIM Workshop, ‘User Interfaces for All’. Online. Available HTTP: <http://ui4all.ics.forth.gr/UI4ALL-2000/files/Position_Papers/Cooper.pdf&gt;. (Now available at http://ui4all.ics.forth.gr/ UI4ALL-2000/ files/ Position_Papers/ Cooper.pdf, last accessed 17 Nov 2012.)

Gappa, H., Nordbrook, Mohamad, Y. and Velasco, C. A. (2004) Preferences of people with disabilities to improve information presentation and information retrieval inside Internet Services – results of a user study. In K. Klaus, K. Miesenberger, W. Zagler and D. Burger (eds)Computers Helping People with Special Needs. Proceedings of 9th International Conference. Berlin Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag, pp. 296–301.

Gould,J.D., Lewis,C. (1985) Designing for Usability: Key Principles and What Designers Think. Communications of the ACM, 2 (3), march, pp. 300-11

Hanson, V. L. and Richards, J. T. (2004) A web accessibility service: update and findings. Paper presented at ASSETS ’04, 18–20 October, Atlanta, Georgia. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.research.ibm.com/ people/ v/ vlh/ HansonASSETS04.pdf>
(last accessed 17 Nov 2012).

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What do you know about assistive technologies?


Fig.1 Assitive technologies to improve access to e-learning
There are a myriad of hardware and software tools that alongside other assistive technologies a disabled person may use to improve access to learning. As part of the five month long Master’s module H810 Accessible Online Learning : Supporting Disabled Students you review the widest range of circumstances and tools – applying these to your own context.


These acetate overlays alter the contrast between the text and the background paper on which the text is printed. For some students who have difficulty with reading due to visual perceptual difficulties such as Dupyslexia this low technology modification enhances their ability to decode the words.
Sheets cost around £3.00 each or £1.75 each in a packs of ten. Another solution is a translucent ruler for £2.65. Onscreen various software packages for PC or MAC permit a wide range of sophisticated changes to screen and text – basic packages free under an accessibility tool, packages that greatly magnify text and offer tools to change point colour, shape and size from £77 to £321. Depdning on the solution varying degrees of support is given.



Head pointers need to suit the precise needs, wishes and expectations of the user and may be used in conjunction with other tools and software. A sophisticated package such as TrackerPro costs £1,288 and includes head, visor and shoulder kit, a tracking webcame and software. At this level it can be used to engage with computer games, as well as to use packages designed to suit the users other needs in relation to visual and audio impairment. These packages are supported by assessors.


Wordprediction devices aren’t limited to use infront of a computer, indeed a portable device may be more versatile for the user and costs between £141 and £200.


Keyboards come in a plethora of shapes, sizes, textures and colours, with various overlays and supporting software for single hand or head pointer use too.
Integrated with screens, wheelchair, hardware and software a market leader for people with considerable mobile impairment, voice and sight impairment such as DynaVox Vmax will cost £9,000. There is considerable online support, with videos too. Setting up and support from an assessor is provided.
Across the spectrum of alternative keyboards, with larger keys, start at £96 for a Kinderboard to BigKeys for £135, to Textboards at £334 and the smart Intellikeys with its wide variety of overlays at £315 (with set–up and maintenance support and bundled with software and overlays at £656).
While Braille users are catered for with some of the devices, hardware and offer kit mentioned above, as well as specialist keyboards and audio readers the IntelliKeys product takes a Braille overlay that costs £6.44 whereas a complete product bundle may cost between £315 and £656.


Screen enlargement … or a large screen offer answers to people with varying degrees of visual impairment and other needs. At an institutional level huge touchscreens from 55” to 65” are available for £2,573 to £3,862. Large screens or multiple screens are a simple solution to someone with some sight impairment. These can be supported by an HD to enlarge text and put it on the screen, for example ZoomText Cameras range from £77 to £199.
Beyond the tools provided with the operating system or browsers which will magnify images to a reasonable degree, there are software bundles such iZoom (PC) £321 and VisioVoice (MAC) £232 with a far greater level of sophistication and adjustment to suit users with nsight impairments, dyslexia and mobility reuirements. Working with a variety of inputting devices this allows the user to make many kinds of adjustments to the way inforamtion is displayed.

Assistive technology to create access to education and work

Fig.1 Assistive technology for people with no vision

I am familiar with all of many assistive tools and use them regularly though I am not dyselxic, rather I have found them to be assistive tools for everything I do as a writer, from scanning in printed content, creating mindmaps, recording, uploading and transcribing interviews and notes, as well as reading back what I have written.

Similarly, all the low option assistive technologies I have and still use, from a digital recorder and a PDA that become a PSION or handheld ‘palm top’ wordprocess to the iPad and Smartphone I have today. Working with colleagues with Dyselxia I started to produce documents for them on coloured sheets.

Trackballs, footpedals and head pointers take me into a new area, though I do use a footpedal to control the playback of interviews as it makes transcription or analysis far easier. Trackballs and tablets I have used in video edit suites as alterantive and better ways to interface with the various digital asasets you are juggling. Headpointers and joysticks in this context are quite new to me, though I will be familiar with reports and documentaries on their use.

Some of the virtual screen tools are also unfamiliar, though word prediction in some sense is something many of us will have experienced with predictive text.

Speech input I have used, but clearly my context and that for a disabled user are going to be very different – my use an indulgence or supra-human tools that enhances what I can naturally acheive, whereas for a disabled person it creates access at a basic level.

Alternate keyboards like any prosphsis, unless tailored to the user, will be a compromise – it depends on the person, their needs, circumstances and resources as to whether a large keyboard for one hand keyboard will be a benefit to them.

Clearly as we start to consider tools for people with no vision or no hearing the level of sophistication and specialisation of the device increases.

Understand your students so that you don’t presuppose anything.

‘If we were to look at the whole of contemporary culture in the Western culture as a kind of school and consider adult roles as courses in which we are enrolled, most adults have a full and demanding schedule’. Kegan (2006:39)

Piaget (1954) Assimilative or accommodative processes?

Understand your students so that you don’t presuppose anything.

Learning for knowledge and skills, everyone will be challenge to improve the repertoire of their skills.

Not what I want to teach, but what, after assessment, they need to learn. No longer had a flexible peg jumping through an institutional, departmental, and academic or LD designed module, but a flexible peg and an accommodating hole.

No two people can possibly be learning the same thing, no matter what common  assessment students undertake – the student with a disability, or disabilities,  whatever these are and how they affect or impact on this individual – will be  acquiring knowledge or a skill that has or is in some way transformed or  translated, the focus diluted or pinpointed through a note–taker, reduced range,  voice of an audio–reader, missing a lecture or seeing it from only one  perspective, access denied or field or lab work excluded through their choices,  risk assessment, health and safety, time, money, people and other such barriers – though sometimes enhanced if a live debate becomes an asynchronous forum or verbatim transcripts of audio and provided to all.

What is the disabled person’s frame of reference?

Each learner’s experience of learning and their relationship with the subject.  Kegan (2006:45)

Where the learner is coming from as well as where they are hoping to go in order to bridge the two – this applies to all learners whatever their circumstances.

Where the bridge metaphor is week is to visualise the physical person in transit rather than a myriad of billions of complex bridging actions occurring between neurones in the learner’s brain. (Kegan, 2006:47) So a spider gram might be better, showing how close to a goal the learner is.

Not just knowing more, but knowing differently. (Ronald Heifetz, 1995)

Mezirow (2000) Transfer of authority from educator to learner. How rapidly will this transformational shift occur, which is a function of how far along they are on a particular bridge.

How do define an adult, self–directed learner?

Skill, style, self–confidence.

What if, for example, we define, say Boris Johnson by what he can do – read Latin, ride a bicycle through traffic and play whiff-whaff, not by what he cannot do, say brush his hair or swim 1000m Front crawl.

While what if I define X by what he cannot do – say, get up in the morning or speak in anything shorter than a paragraph, rather than what he can do, swim the Channel and empathise with others.

Need to read: Hegel, The phemonology of mind.

This is why:

Hegel attempts to outline the fundamental nature and conditions of human knowledge in these first three chapters. He asserts that the mind does not immediately grasp the objects in the world, concurring with Kant, who said that knowledge is not knowledge of “things-in-themselves,” or of pure inputs from the  senses. A long-standing debate raged in philosophy between those who believed that “matter” was the most important part of knowledge and those who privileged “mind.”


Kegan, R (2006) ‘What “form” transformations? A constructive-developmental approach to transformative learning. An abridged version of a chapter that appeared in Jack Mezirow et al. in ‘Learning as Transformation’ (2000). In ‘Contemporary Theories of Learning’ (2009) Knud Illeris.

Mezirow, J. (2000) “Learning to think like an adult – Core concepts of Transformational Theory.” IN J.Mezirow and Associates: Learning as Transformation: Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.

Piaget, J. (1954) The Construction of Reality in the Child. New York: Basic Books.

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