[Guest Blog] Changing the World with Inclusive Education

This post has been republished via RSS; it originally appeared at: New blog articles in Microsoft Tech Community.

This post was written by Office Apps and Services MVP Karen McCall as part of our Humans of IT Guest Blogger series. She shares about how without teaching students (and teachers) to create digital ecosystems and content that are inherently accessible, we are graduating people who cannot compete in a national, regional or global economy and job market. With more countries passing legislation around the inclusion of people with disabilities in education, employment, social, recreational and civic participation, those who fail to learn how to create an Internet of Everyone will be left behind. Read on to learn about the importance of inclusive education in shaping the world. 

 

I’ve been working in the field of accessible document accessibility and digital accessibility in general for over 20 years. Some may jump to the conclusion that I simply deal with browser access and broadband, but they would be wrong. My work and advocacy is centered around ensuring that any digital content or ecosystem is accessible (and usable) for those of us with disabilities.

 

Think of using a computer or any digital device without a monitor or a mouse. For most, this is a scary thought, yet for those of us who are blind or visually disabled and use screen readers, and/or have a learning, cognitive or print disability and use Text-to-Speech, or live with mobility disabilities and need to use voice recognition and/or alternate input devices, these are the tools we use every day to access the limited number of digital content and ecosystems that ARE designed to be inclusive/accessible.

 

I have three favorite sayings… well probably more, but these three apply to this article:

  1. We all must be able to choose a tool for a task not a tool for a disability: I’ve always approached my adaptive technology in this way.
  2. The Internet of Things MUST be an Internet of Everyone (IoE): After all, it is people who will be accessing and using the “things”.
  3. Part of thinking about accessible digital design is the word “design”: Oftentimes, we’ve forgotten about designing things in favor of just getting it published or out in the marketplace, and compromising on inclusivity and accessibility.

Tools that have previously been thought of as only for those of us with disabilities are proving useful to everyone. For example, if someone can’t see their screen, they can have text spoken to them (despite loathing the mistakes made when we don’t proofread). We use word prediction if text is tiny on the screen, and we pinch and zoom or magnify. We use a tool for a task, but those tools are the same ones used by those of us with disabilities.

 

My primary area of advocacy is for a global inclusive education standard where those of us with disabilities aren’t “accommodated for” but rather, "included in” education. Currently, if you have a disability the first “solution” is often to simply accommodate you. However, in a digital environment, accommodation should be a rarity, and not the “only solution". We need to design for inclusion and accessibility from the get go. 

 

BUT…

We do not teach students how to design inclusive accessible ecosystems. We do not graduate people who can compete in a global marketplace where countries have laws, guidelines and standards of accessible digital content and environments.

 

This is why we need a global standard for inclusive education. Not only should those of us with disabilities be able to access and use ANY digital device, ecosystem or content, but every student should be creating accessible inclusive digital “things” that are inherently accessible and usable by those of us with disabilities. We need to start to think (not only outside of the cliched envelope), but to throw the envelope away, and think of how we would access the things in our daily lives if we couldn’t see/use a monitor or a mouse.

 

As a final thought, one of the things I always challenge people with is to take the updated version of Corning’s 2011’s "A Day Made of Glass” and make it and the subsequent videos produced by Corning about the future accessible and inclusive. Choose any disability and put yourself in the shoes of someone living with that disability, then create an inclusive experience for those of us with disabilities. Every part of the video, every task must be accessible to those of us with disabilities… even if we need to break our concept of the glass!

 

Imagine it! Someday we may be able to race... with me in my "white cane Mustang" and you... The future is full of possibilities if we put effort and thought into designing with accessibility in mind. 

 

Karen in a white Mustang at Santa Monica BeachKaren in a white Mustang at Santa Monica Beach

 

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