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In my last radio interview with Peter Greco from Radio 5RPH Adelaide for 2012 we reviewed some of the major achievements in technology and accessibility over the last year.

We touched on the Australian Government’s goals to achieve W3C Web Content Accessibility 2.0 compliance to Level A standard by the end of 2012 and to Level AA by 2014, our Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility Compliance course, which has had four intakes since being first offered in October 2011, new developments in tablet devices and software, the launch of Windows 8 and the redesign of the Dignity for Disability Website in November 2012. Interview with Peter Greco from Radio 5RPH on 22nd December 2012

I look forward to returning to Radio 5RPH to continue monthly updates on developments in technologies for people with disabilities on the last Saturday in every month when the show resumes in 2013.

 

With the release of Windows 8 RT and Professional versions in late October 2012, we are beginning to see a merging of the power of ultrabooks with tablet devices, without compromising the accessibility features of tablets that we have come to admire, such as the iPad.

For example, the top of the range of the new Sony VAIO Duo 11 and Dell tablet computers support an i7 processor, up to 8 GB RAM and either 128 or 256 GB Solid State drives (SSD) as well as usb ports and HDMI output.

Sony Vaio duo hybrid computer/tablet

Sony Vaio duo hybrid computer/tablet

Having used Windows 8 professional since its launch, I am now finding the interface more intuitive and enjoy the visual nature of the dynamic tiles. The nice thing about windows 8 Professional is that Windows 7 software still runs happily on this new platform. One very compelling reason for opting for Windows 8 Professional rather tan the more limited RT version, which is currently the only option for users purchasing the new Microsoft Surface computer launched at the same time as Windows 8. Media Access Australia has a nice review of the Surface computer as well as Windows 8: http://www.mediaaccess.org.au/latest_news/general/accessibility-review-microsoft-surface-tablet

The accessibility features of Windows 8 Professional can be accessed by either using the hot key combination (Windows key and pressing the ‘U’ key together) or via control panel > ease of access center.

Ease of Access Center accessibility options in Windows 8

Ease of Access Center accessibility options in Windows 8

As shown in the screen shot above, the ease of access center options include:

  • Quick access to common tools including: Magnifier; On Screen Keyboard; Narrator; High Contrast display
  • An option to use the computer without a display (optimised for people who are blind)
  • An option to optimise the visual display for those with vision impairments
  • The option to set up for alternative inputting devices
  • Adjustments to customise the mouse or other pointing devices to make them easier to use
  • Settings adjustments for the keyboard
  • The option to specify visual alternatives for sounds for hearing impaired users
  • Adjustments to decrease the complexity and distractions on screen – optimised for ease of reading and typing
  • The ability to customise touch settings for tablet computers

As the Media Access site notes, there are several enhancements to the accessibility features of this version of Windows including:

  • Improvements to narrator providing extra language support, new voices, better application support  and touch-enabled support
  • Improved magnifier with support for high contrast colour schemes and a new interface for touchscreen devices
  • An option to enable users to sign-in and specifywhich built-in accessibility features launch as the computer starts up
  • A range of new apps designed with accessibility in mind available via the Windows Store feature in Windows 8

As more hybrid tablet computers appear on the market we can anticipate improved affordability, which will make these tablets very attractive multipurpose devices that can perform the most demanding work related tasks while also supporting an impressive range of universal design features.

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Through funding support provided by Telstra Australia we have been undertaking research into the efficacy of mainstream devices such as iPads as assistive technologies over the last few months.  The aim of the research is to provide empirical evidence of the impact of the use of such mainstream technologies on the attainment of the participation goals of 10 adults with varying physical disabilities and communication needs.

The methodology employed has involved a mixed-methods approach incorporating: 1) evaluation of the participants’ use of the devices over a 12 month period (such as frequency of use, their choice of software applications and their interactions with others using the devices); 2) pre and post intervention  measurements using the Canadian Occupational Performance Measurement (COPM) instrument designed to detect changes in self-perceived occupational performance over time (Law et al, 2000) and goal attainment scaling (Kiresuk, Smith & Cardillo, 1994) in which each participant determines their own goals for the use of the iPads; and  3) analysis of social interactions facilitated through the use of the iPads as AAC devices using the Circle of Communication Partners Paradigm (Blackstone & Hunt Berg, 2003).

 

One of the participants in the trials of the iPads as assistive technologies undertaking training with research assistant Carolyn Bilsborow

One of the participants in the trials of the iPads as assistive technologies undertaking training with research assistant Carolyn Bilsborow

We presented interim findings to Department of Communities and Social Inclusion therapists on the 13th December and will be presenting the findings at the AGOSCI conference in May 2013.

The study contributes to the growing evidence-base exploring the potential of mainstream mobile devices such as iPads as assistive technologies and identifies both the benefits and challenges in adapting these technologies for use by people with physical disabilities and complex communication needs.

 

I returned to South Africa in October 2012 at the invitation of Professor Judy Backhouse from the University of the Witwatersrand who also met the costs of my air fare. The purpose of my visit to Wits was to conduct a teaching and learning training session on the 10th October,  participate in a research workshop on the 11th October and also present an invited paper at a public lecture on the 12th October.

I took the opportunity while in South Africa to conduct further teacher training sessions in Limpopo and Gauteng provinces.  This training was conducted from the 3rd to 5th October in Tzaneen and was well attended with very positive feedback from the teachers who attended.

Teachers with their certificates following training conducted in Tzaneen in October 2012

Teachers with their certificates following training conducted in Tzaneen in October 2012

I then flew from Polokwane to Johannesburg and conducted teacher training at Thornbirds Convention Centre for Gauteng teachers from 7th to 9th October.

Teachers attending training at the Thornbirds Convention Centre

Teachers attending training at the Thornbirds Convention Centre

While at Thornbirds I met with Sr Mary, a Salesian nun who founded the Lerato Educational Centre for children, which caters for chidren up to 11 years of age from the Jackson’s Drift informal settlement in Eickenhof.  We are exploring ways that we might be able to include the children into our program operating out of Gauteng and will be exploring funding options in the new year.

Lerato educational centre for children from Jackson's Drift informal settlement in Eickenoff

Lerato educational centre for children from Jackson’s Drift informal settlement in Eickenoff

After leaving Wits I travelled to Cape Town to participate in meetings at the University of the Western Cape and to then travel with Professor Viv Bozalek, Director of Teaching and Learning at UWC) to attend a three day writing workshop at Mont Fleur. During that workshop we completed a paper on authentic learning which has been submitted for review to the British Journal of Educational Technology.

Participants at the Mont Fleur writing workshop in October

Participants at the Mont Fleur writing workshop in October 2012Participants at the Mont Fleur writing workshop in October 2012

My last stop in South Africa before returning to Australia was the University of Kwazulu Natal, Durban, South Africa, where I presented two papers at the International Association of Media and Communication Research (IAMCR ) conference, which was held from the 15th – 19th July, 2012 at the Howard College Campus of the University of Kwazulu Natal.

One of the highlights for me was the panel session featuring  South Africa’s female Public Protector, Advocate T.N. Madonsela, Sunday Times investigative reporter and champion of South African press freedom, Mzilikazi wa Afrika, Nelson Mandela’s Rivonia trail lawyer and human rights legend, Advocate George Bizos and  The Mail and Guardian’s award-winning investigative journalist, Sam Sole.

Opening plenary session at the IAMCR conference at the University of Kwazulu Natal, Howard College Campus in Durban

Opening plenary session at the IAMCR conference at the University of Kwazulu Natal, Howard College Campus in Durban

I presented the following co-authored papers at the conference:

  • Addressing the digital divide through the use of accessible Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in South African schools – co-authored with Rolda Rapotu focusing on our research in Limpopo Province
  • Engaging young people in participatory research through traditional, digital and social media – co-authored with Gerry Bloustien focusing on our various research projects employing participatory and emancipatory research design.

Further information is available from the conference home page: http://www.iamcr2012.ukzn.ac.za/

Following the training sessions in Tzaneen I flew to Port Elizabeth and then travelled to Grahamstown to present a paper titled “Inclusive education: A “virtual” reality?” at the Higher Education Close Up Conference held at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa where the Higher Education Close-up Conference was held from 11-13th July 2012

Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa where the Higher Education Close-up Conference was held from 11-13th July 2012

My paper drew on the work of Sheehy (2008) in exploring the potential of innovative pedagogical practices through emergent technologies such as 3DVLEs in challenging existing educational structures and the perpetuation of ‘social hierarchies and inequalities ‘ (Allan, 2004, p. 428). The paper focused more specifically on inclusive education as it pertains to students with disabilities and aimed to problematise the categorisation of disability.  Drawing on Hickey-Moody and Wood’s (2008, 2010) reconceptualisation of disability through a Deleuzian lens, the paper deconstructed the normal/abnormal; able bodied/disabled binaries that are either sustained or challenged through pedagogical practices in virtual learning spaces.

References used in my presentation included:

Allan, J. (2004). Deterritorializations: Putting postmodernism to work on teacher education and inclusion. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 36(4), 417-432.

Armstrong, D., Spandagou, I., & Armstrong, A. C. (2008). One nation globalization and inclusive education. Paper presented at the AARE 2008 International Education Research Conference, Brisbane.

Bradley, D., Noonan, P., Nugent, H., & Scales, B. (2008). Review of Australian higher education: Final report. Retrieved 19 June, 2011, from, www.deewr.gov.au/he_review_finalreport

Creagh, T. A., Nelson, K. J., & Clarke, J. A. (2011). Acknowledging social justice and equity through good practice for monitoring student learning engagement in FYE. Paper presented at the 14th Pacific Rim First Year in Higher Education Conference, Freemantle, WA.

Deleuze, G. (1994). Difference and Repetition (trans. Paul Patton). New York: Colombia University Press.

Elliott, A. (2010). Equity, pedagogy and inclusion. Harnessing digital technologies to support students from low socio-economic backgrounds in higher education. Community Informatics: A Global d-Journal, 6(3).

Gaad, E. (2011). Inclusive Education in the Middle East. New York and London: Routledge.

Gregory, B., Gregory, S., Wood, D. et al (2011). How are Australian higher education institutions contributing to change through innovative teaching and learning in virtual worlds? In G. Williams, P. Statham, N. Brown & B. Cleland (Eds), Changing Demands, Changing Directions. Proceedings of the 28th Annual ASCILITE Conference, Hobart, Tasmania, 475-490.

Gregory, S., Lee, M., Ellis, A., Gregory, B., Wood, D., Hillier, M., Campbell, M., Grenfell, J., Pace, S., Farley, H., Thomas, A., Cram, A., Sinnappan, S., Smith, K., Hay, L., Kennedy-Clark, S., Warren, I., Grant, S., Craven, D. and Dreher, H. (2010). Australian higher education institutions transforming the future of teaching and learning through virtual worlds. In C.H. Steel, M.J. Keppell, P. Gerbic & S. Housego (Eds.), Curriculum, technology & transformation for an unknown future. Proceedings of the 27th Annual ASCILITE Conference, Sydney.

Hickey-Moody, A. and Wood, D. (2010). Ethics in Second Life: Difference, desire and the production of subjectivity. In C.Wankel.and S. Malleck (eds.) Emerging Ethical Issues of Life in Virtual Worlds. Charlotte, NC:  IAP – Information Age Publishing, Inc, pp. 169-191.

Hickey-Moody, A. and Wood, D. (2008). Virtually sustainable: Deleuze & desiring differenciation in Second Life. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 22(6), pp. 805-816. Routledge, London.

James, R., Bexley, E., Anderson, M., Devlin, M., Garnett, R., Marginson, S., & Maxwell, L. (2008). A review of the participation in higher education of people from low socioeconomic backgrounds and Indigenous people. Report prepared for Universities Australia by the Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Melbourne. Retrieved 15 June, 2011, from, http://113.192.24.155:8080/vital/access/services/Download/ngv:35491/SOURCE2?view=true

Transforming Australia’s Higher Education System. (2009). Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Retrieved 15 June, 2011, from, http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report. (2010). Retrieved 15 June, 2011, from, http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/leading-the-international-agenda/efareport/

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Status of Signatories and Parties. (2011). A/RES/61/106 Chapter IV (15).

United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Status of Signatories and Parties. (2011). Doc.A/61/611.

Willems, J. (2009). Different spaces but same places: Possibilities, pitfalls and persistent practices in Second Life. In R.A. Atkinson & C. McBeath (Eds.), Same places, different spaces: Proceedings ASCILITE Auckland 2009 (pp. 1109-1120). Auckland: Auckland University/ Auckland University of Technology/ASCILITE.

Wood, D. (2011). The design of inclusive curricula for multi-user virtual environments: A framework for developers and educators. In G. Vincenti and J. Bramam (eds.). ICST Transactions on e-Education and e-Learning, 11(7-9), 1-17.

After spending a week at the University of the Western Cape I returned to Gauteng Province where I conducted training in Lenasia for teachers from the schools participating in our Let us Learn project. The training precedes the implementation of trials of the 3D virtual learning environment developed in five basic schools, one Islamic school and one special needs school in Gauteng Province.

Teachers attendind 3D virtual learning training in Lenasia, South Africa

Teachers attended 3D virtual learning training in Lenasia, South Africa

On the 5th July I flew to Polokwane where I conducted training that afternoon for teachers at New Horizon Special School.

Teacher training conducted at New Horizons Special School in Polokwane, South Africa

Teacher training conducted at New Horizons Special School in Polokwane, South Africa

We then travelled to Tzaneen in rural Limpopo Province where we conducted four days of training for teachers participating in the 5 basic schools and two special needs schools located in that area. We had excellent attendance with between 25-20 teachers attending each day, including weekends.

The following photos show us setting up the new computers for the training and the teachers participating in sessions conducted over the four days.

Setting up for the training sessions in Tzaneen, Limpopo Province, South Africa

Setting up for the training sessions in Tzaneen, Limpopo Province, South Africa

Siyafunda Computer Training Centre and the South African National Zakah Fund sponsored Rashid to accompany us to work with teachers who required basic literacy training.

Rashid representing Siyafunda CTC working with a small group of teachers who requested initially basic computer skills training prior to undertaking the 3D virtual learning training

Rashid representing Siyafunda CTC working with a small group of teachers who requested initially basic computer skills training prior to undertaking the 3D virtual learning training

Rolda Rapotu from the Limpopo Department of Economic Enterprise also assisted Rashid with the basic computer literacy training of teachers from the participating schools.

Rolda from LIMDEV working with participants requesting basic computer training

Rolda from LIMDEV working with participants requesting basic computer training

There were thirty teachers attending the first day of training which was held at the Tzaneen Country Lodge.

Opening of the four day training workshop conducted in Tzaneen, Limpopo Province

Opening of the four day training workshop conducted in Tzaneen, Limpopo Province

Many participants attended the hands on training sessions each day including during the weekends – real commitment from the teachers of Limpopo Province!

Teachers attending the hands-on training in use of the 3D virtual learning environment

Teachers attending the hands-on training in use of the 3D virtual learning environment

Workshop participants were actively involved in the hands-on sessions and group sessions discussing pedagogy and how to incorporate content into the 3D virtual learning environment over the four days.

Participants contributing to one of the many group discussions held during the workshop

Participants contributing to one of the group discussions held during the workshop

We also met with representatives from the non-profit organisation (Shonaquip) during our visit. Shonaquip was established by Shona McDonald, the mother of a child with a disability,  and now provides clinical services, as well as professional and clinical training for therapists, rehabilitation workers, wheelchair users, their care providers and families, across Southern Africa. We are hoping to work with Shonaquip in the participating special schools. We had good attendance from teachers from these special schools in Tzaneen including Yingisani School for the hearing impaired and Letaba Special School. Here the teachers discuss their children’s special needs with Denise.

Teachers from Yingisani and Letaba Special Schools discuss their learners' special needs during a tea break

Denise demonstrating assisting technology software to teachers from Yingisani and Letaba Special Schools during the tea break

Teacher evaluations from the four day training workshop were overwhelmingly positive and we are confident that teachers from participating schools now have the skill to commence trials of the platform in Term 3 commencing in a few weeks time. Further training workshops are planned later in the year to introduce teachers to more advanced skills creating their own content for the 3D virtual learning environment.

Group photo taken on final day of the training workshop conducted in Tzaneen

Group photo taken on final day of the training workshop conducted in Tzaneen