Access Technology for Blind and Low Vision Accessibility: Book Trailer

Why did I chose this book?

I chose the book "Access Technology for Blind and Low Vision Accessibility" by Ike Presley, Yue-Ting Siu because it is relevant to what I am interested in doing for my research/dissertation. This book is focused on giving individuals who are blind or visually impaired equal access to all digital activities in classrooms so that they are seamlessly included within their home, school, and work communities. The central theme of this book is equity. Oftentimes, students who are blind do not have equitable access to technology used in classrooms causing them to be dependent on sighted peers or adults. They are not able to pursue a full range of their passions simply because they do not have equitable access. The book uses a resilient and inquiry-based approach where individuals who work with students who are blind guide students in sampling and choosing the right technology that fits their needs. So instead of asking the dead question "Is this accessible?" students need to ask "How can I access this?" This book empowers students to be resilient learners and users of diverse technological tools as opposed to teaching them "targeted" technologies! 

Book Review

Being a practitioner in the discipline of special education, I chose to read “Access Technology for Blind and Low Vision Accessibility (Second Edition)” by Yue-Ting Siu & Ike Presley. This book discusses accessibility issues faced by learners with visual impairments (VI) and blindness in a digital classroom and how educators can help navigate those issues. The goal of the book is to shift the power of information from privileged learners to an equally entitled community of diverse learners. The book situates educators like me as “accessibility facilitators” whose primary role is to empower students with VI for self-driven access to information. Accessibility is seldom considered a “social justice” issue. Considering that we all live in a world filled with information that can be accessed at the tips of our fingers, inequities of access to digital environments have just as many or even more serious implications for students with VI.

The authors follow two philosophical views throughout the book. (1) They follow the educational model as opposed to a medical model of disability. Solutions that solve inaccessibility issues are better focused on leveraging individual strengths or potential abilities rather than “fixing” the individual’s deficits. (2) They use “identity-first” instead of “person-first” language. They argue that we don’t normally describe a woman as a “person who is female”, so we should simply describe individuals who are blind as “blind person”. The authors claim that the identify-first language is a rally-cry against ableist assumptions that perceive disability as a deficit instead of just another inherent characteristic. 

The book is divided into two parts: Part 1 provides an overview of available technologies for accessing print, digital text, authoring, producing alternate media, and strategies for accessing multimedia and data. Part 2 provides a guide to the assessment of technology needs for blind students and initial instruction. By the time I finished reading Part 1, I had sent five different emails to my colleagues about resources and technologies that could make a huge difference for our blind students. Many times, mainstream applications and devices could be more flexibly deployed for access than single-function specialized assistive technologies. The authors challenged me to first understand the workflow that my students encounter during their school day. The authors describe “workflow” as the infrastructure that is implemented for materials dissemination, engagement, and exchange. The authors argue that regardless of the multitude of paper materials that still perpetuate public schools, a digital workflow is often the most ideal for people who are blind or visually impaired.

The book had one particular excerpt from a letter written by a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) to a parent who was concerned about their son listening to a book rather than reading. The TVI explained that “listening” to a book does not diminish the acquisition of print or braille reading. She explained to the parent that his son will not read a small print book in dim lighting but he will have reading experiences that are just as rich. The authors insist that tools that allow auditory access to print information are an essential part of the well-stocked toolbox for visually impaired students. 

The authors claim that one of the most efficient ways to keep up with new technologies is to build a community of practice (CoP). A service provider’s expertise develops naturally according to teaching experience and CoPs help in identifying the experts in various areas of technology and teaching. According to the authors, the shift from learning the technology to using the technology for learning is an average of 3 years. The biggest recommendation that I would offer to both general and special educators is to introduce technology to students as soon as possible. Twenty-first-century learners are considered “digital natives” which means they grew up in a time when technologies were already in widespread use. In contrast, most educators are still “digital immigrants” as they grew up before the digital age. Students with VI are lost in the middle between digital immigrants and natives and thereby not having access to the same opportunities as their sighted peers to “incidentally” learn to use technologies. Hence, TVIs like me should step up and provide that equitable incidental learning experiences to enrich their students’ digital environments.

Book Trailer

Attached “Video Transcript” for users of screen readers.

Link to the Book

Available here through APH: Access Technology for Blind and Low Vision Accessibility book

This book is also available in Bookshare.org for free download.