Accessibility of Learning Materials

Digital tools are providing more insight into the accessibility of learning materials, and even automating some steps in making more accessible alternatives available.

"We have been fighting this uphill battle of content accessibility for years, and we have been fighting it without knowing what is actually out there," said Jeremy Olguin, accessible technology manager at California State University Chico, also called Chico State (

For the past year, Chico State has been trying out Blackboard Ally, a program that automatically runs all course materials through a checklist of common accessibility issues. Ally generates a range of more accessible alternatives, and then makes these available to students in formats such as Semantic HTML, audio, ePub and electronic Braille.

"The faculty members love that, because they don't have to take an extra step," Mr. Olquin told Campus Technology.

In another effort aimed at classroom accessibility, Northwestern University (IL) has found some technology solutions to assist with student note-taking.  Last year, James Stackowiak, Northwest’s Director of Assistive Technology, led the pilot of two technology options: the LiveScribe Echo Smartpen and the Sonocent Audio Notetaker. "With the Smartpen, students can go back and tap on notes they had written and it takes them right to that point in the recorded lecture.”

Like so many modifications for accessibility, this technology proves helpful to a much wider range of students than originally anticipated. “We interviewed students and got overwhelming feedback that they used to be anxious that they were going to miss something," he said. "Now they can pay better attention because they know they don't have to write down everything that they are hearing. They have a way to go back to those things. It allows them to focus more in class and be more present."