A news release came out from the Justice Department  on January the 13th regarding e-readers and their use in university classrooms.

This is an excerpt: “Under the agreements reached today, the universities generally will not purchase, recommend or promote use of the Kindle DX, or any other dedicated electronic book reader, unless the devices are fully accessible to students who are blind and have low vision. The universities agree that if they use dedicated electronic book readers, they will ensure that students with vision disabilities are able to access and acquire the same materials and information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as sighted students with substantially equivalent ease of use. The agreements that the Justice Department reached with these universities extend beyond the Kindle DX to any dedicated electronic reading device.”

I think this is a good thing. Like all electronic items (e.g. e-books, screencasts) provided by educational institutions we must remember those who are not fully “abled” so they can have a fair chance at the same educational opportunities being provided to the rest of the students. But it does give me pause. An e-reader is an electronic way to read a book, how good have we really been at providing physical books to those who have poor vision. Large print library books are rarely, if ever, found at the K-16 levels. I vividly remember the hoops I had to jump through to get large print textbooks for students in the K-12 system for the few that needed them.

Perhaps the switch to e-readers, slow as it will be, brings some of the best opportunities yet for access to those who have visual difficulties.

Picture Credit

I have become one of the resident experts on my campus for teaching Artstor an art image database. During the last year we have found Artstor to be very responsive to suggestions and we believe they have made great improvements to their product and its stability. I was dually impressed to find that they had created a series of tutorials that they were making available via You_Tube . For our website redesign I am not only linking to other vendor tutorials but I am also creating my own. Unfortunately, I am unable to use the tutorials that Artstor has created because they are not ADA compliant. Specifically, there is no form of closed captioning. Those who cannot hear the video can not get the full value of the tutorial. 

My campus has a significant number of deaf students and we are keenly aware of the need to make all of our services compliant to ADA standards but really we should all be doing it anyway. for a video tutorial (aka screencast) it is imperative that some type of captioning that has every word being spoken is made available on the screen. I mentioned to an Artstor trainer that came to our campus that I was dissappointed with the oversight and she said she would take the suggestion back to her people. I hope they are as responsive with this request as they have been to others.

Not that one needs to be hearing impaired to need closed captioning. I have found myself on the reference desk many a slow evening watching closed captioned Lynda.com videos because I am not able to put on a headset while I wait for students to use our personalized reference services. I am certain there are many other examples that one can come up with that would make closed captioning necessary for those who have perfectly able audible abilities.
Consequently, I am saddened by those, such as Artstor, who do fine work but forget about the entirety of their audience. I see many of my colleagues who make online tutorial screencasts do the same, there should be a law…wait, there is. And what about those who are simply in the business of making good stuff for the rest of us like the people at Common Craft who make the exceptional Plain English videos if you don’t know them you really should check them out…assuming you are not hearing impaired.