Disability awareness rising

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    By Carrie Rowe

    In today”s technologically savvy world, disability access extends beyond wheelchair ramps and automatic doors.

    BYU courses that use Blackboard quizzes and interactive CDs have become increasingly popular, and for students with disabilities, this can be problematic.

    Paul Byrd, director of the University Accessibility Center, said although awareness is increasing, technological accessibility for students with disabilities is a continuing issue.

    “People make Web sites that can”t be read by screen-reading technology,” Byrd said. “Faculty will show a video without captioning or put out electronic media for classes, but don”t make them accessible for those with disabilities.”

    Byrd said most faculty members simply lack knowledge of the issue.

    “Faculty have to get used to thinking proactively for accessibility,” Byrd said.

    Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires technological media to be accessible to people with impairments. This section is the Web interpretation of section 504, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.

    Larry Seawright of the Center for Instructional Design said the university is trying to make technology work for those with hearing and vision impairments.

    “We comply with the law by either making the technology accessible or by making a reasonable accommodation for people for whom we cannot make it accessible,” Seawright said.

    For students with visual disabilities, designing Web sites that can be orated to students using a screen reader helps professors make their material clearer to all.

    “When we make things more accessible for students with disabilities, it becomes more usable for everybody,” Seawright said. “We”re forced to design things better because of the accessibility standards.”

    Yvette Arts of the Center for Instructional Design said other accommodations are made for media that cannot be altered to include accessibility options.

    “There are a lot of issues with accessibility and some can be met and some just cannot,” Arts said. “It”s not that people are trying to discriminate. It”s just that some things are not accessible to those who are learning disabled. But we are getting a lot better in trying to make things available to them.”

    Norman Nemrow, professor of accounting at BYU, offers transcripts of his video lectures, traditionally presented on CDs, for students with hearing disabilities. For students who have visual disabilities, screen-reading technology can present the information in animated segments of the lessons.

    “Norm is very conscientious about making sure all students have access to materials,” Arts said.

    Arts said individual faculty members varied in their cognizance of the issues.

    “I think they are gradually becoming more aware, but I still don”t think it”s a central focus,” Arts said.

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