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Distance Education Could Open Doors For The Blind

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Betty Nobel is Co-ordinator, Program for Visually Impaired Adults at Vancouver Community College. She is also a member at large on NFB: AE's board of directors.

Sometimes, it seems like technology is changing so fast that we can't keep pace with the changes. But some innovations could make a difference for the blind community. Imagine turning on your computer, connecting to the Internet, and taking the courses of your choice. Think about it. You wouldn't have to learn your way around a complex campus. You wouldn't have to be limited to courses offered in your own community. You would still have interaction with classmates and your instructor, but this would happen elect- ronically.

Ok. So this wouldn't do much for your social life, but the convenience would make this kind of education attractive, wouldn't it? Distance education, with the right kind of access and materials in the format of choice would be a wonderfully stress-free way to learn. I have had a dream, for many years, that the program for vision-impaired adults at Vancouver Community College would be accessible through distance education across Canada. The dream is coming closer to a reality.

There are many tools out there for designers of on-line courses. Multi media can be adapted so that blind people can access it, and there are interactive tutorials available designed specifically for blind and vision-impaired people. Unfortunately, however, some of the tools being used make on-line courses virtually inaccessible. So where do we go from here? I am aware of a student at the university of Victoria in British Columbia who is doing her Masters research on the topic of accessible design of on-line courses for the blind and vision-impaired. She intends to develop a database for designers of on-line courses which would describe ways to make courses accessible and provide information about what design tools work best for this population. Other research and development in the area of accessible on-line course design for the blind include work being done by the Adaptive Techn- ology Centre at the University of Tor- onto, and the Tesco company continues to dev- elop interactive tut-orials that could probably be modified for on-line use. These developments are very encouraging, but as always, blind people will need to be ground-breakers in the exciting new arena of distance education. Don't hesitate to take an on-line course and to make your needs for accessibility known. That is another and very powerful way to ensure that on-line courses become accessible for blind people. With the advent of electronic braille, deaf-blind people should have better access to education than ever before, too. If education provides a bridge to employment, then distance education is the cloud to climb on so that we can reach the stars. The dream of increased access to educational opportunities can become a reality. Let's make it so.