Thursday, December 8, 2011

Supporting Blind Students with Smartphones?

David Pogue wrote an article for the NY Times about how Apple's iPhone 4S's AssistiveTouch feature supports blind users more effectively by empowering users to control the phone through complex hand gestures and interactive voice.  I don't have an iPhone 4S so it's hard for me to describe these features in detail but this article has me thinking...

As emerging technologies have begun to be used more in college classes for learning activities and increased participation, the concerns about their accessibility for disabled students, particularly those with vision challenges, have escalated.  For background, please refer to  this article and this article.

With the increasing sales of smartphones, we are seeing more and more emerging tools develop a mobile app.  As smartphones continue to become more accessible to blind students, more of them are purchasing the devices. So, it seems that professors should be including mobile support as one of the factors used when evaluating a tool for use in a classroom.  

This is really fascinating to me, as I can recall sitting in a presentation at a conference three and a half years ago listening to a Bill Rankin talk about Abilene Christian's mobile initiative, now called ACU Connected.  At the time, I was excited about the experimentation at ACU but I remember seeing red accessibility flags pop up in my peripheral vision.  But now, the tables seem to be turning and smart phones appear to be transitioning into a gateway to support disabled students, rather than another obstacle.  This requires professors and administrators to view and value mobile devices very differently.

Do you know of any colleges or universities who are experimenting with smartphones as an assistive technology device to accommodate students with particular learning challenges?  I'd love to hear from you if you do.  This is a topic I'm interested in weaving into my forthcoming book.  Thank you!

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