My visual impairment tends to cause some unique challenges when it comes to assignments and overall tasks for my courses. There are a number of things with in my classes that have to be adapted or altered in order for it to be accessible, and so I can get my work done, and learn what the other students are learning. Some examples are the course readings – they have to be transcribed into a word doc or TXT format, same with powerpoint slides, course handouts, tables/ charts/ diagrams as well as assignment outlines. The reason that all of these things have to be transcribed is because I use screen reader software, which is designed for visually impaired people. It reads out everything on the screen in a computerized robot voice. Although a rather impressive piece of software, it tends to have trouble reading such things as tables, charts and diagrams because there is to much going on for the voice to keep up with, and it is difficult to navigate the multiple columns. The same goes with the course readings, powerpoint slides, handouts and assignment outlines; if there are tables etc in them, they have to be reformatted in order for me to be able to read them. This can be quite frustrating because it takes some time to do the transcriptions, so I have to wait, and might not get the material soon enough to be prepared for class.
Another issue with accessibility in my courses is the many many visual aspects. This is in terms of mainly videos and photos. I find that often instructors use photos and videos as examples in lectures. Which, don’t get me wrong, I completely understand why they do this. We live in such a visual world today it seems, especially with the internet. When we explore the web it is proven that we scan the screen rather then actually read the full information, and there are so many visual components online that we tend to be drawn to the photos/ videos first, and the text later. So I believe that the instructors are taking a more visual approach because of the digital era we are in… It makes a lot of sense, but for someone like me who is blind, we rely on sighted people to describe the video/photos to the best of their ability, which in turn makes us slightly less independent.
However annoying all of these issues are, I am still able to attend University and my courses, and do my assignments thanks to the wonderful people who sign up to be notetakers and access aids. These people, at least at SFU, are hired by the Centre for Accessible Learning. A notetaker is actually a volunteer who basically shares their notes from lecture with a disabled student. I would like to explain that in my case, because of the screen reader robot voice it is very hard to take notes because you have an earbud in one ear listening to the screen reader as you type, and the instructor talking at the same time, and it becomes confusing and difficult to listen to both at once. As for the Access Aid, they are the ones hired to help with any visual content. So they are the ones who describe any photos and videos, they edit papers and assignments to make them visually pleasing and uniform, and they also help with any unaccessible websites/online research and software. I am so incredibly grateful to these people who sign up semester after semester to help me! They do not have to do this, but for some reason they decided to give it a try, and I wouldn’t be able to get my degree without them! So however unaccessible course materials, and visual aspects tend to be, there are always ways to make them fully accessible. Yes, adaptations have to be made. So I am learning the same information as every other student, and that is what is most important, not necessarily how you do it.