NEADS Conference 2004 - Right On!
Vince Tomassetti is the Vision Technology Specialist at Assistive Technology – BC and a business student at Simon Fraser University. Being a person with a visual disability, he uses assistive technology extensively at work and at school. Through Assistive Technology – BC, he has been supporting students and employees with visual impairments to overcome their print-related barriers. Since 1994, he has been using a range of adaptive technologies in the post-secondary environment to overcome his own print-related barriers. As a result, he has developed extensive knowledge of developing strategies for overcoming vocational and educational print-related barriers through the use of assistive technology.
Comparing Formal and Informally Produced Digital Texts
Depending on the province and the post-secondary institutional practices, students with print disabilities receive quality digital texts. These range from materials that are professionally produced to Library standards and Copyright law, to digital text sourced from a publishers file, to an informally scanned file with text only. The options vary in cost, skills of the production staff, production time, and quality. Print disabled students need to balance their tolerance in reading and studying from an incomplete text with scanning errors which can be produced quickly to that of a complete alternate formatted book including all graphics and charts. This session will assist participants to understand the many issues in this area and will offer solutions for discussion.
Vince Tomassetti, Vision Technology Specialist, Assistive Technology–B.C., explained that the objective of alternative-format text is “Access to the right information at the right time and in the right place.” Until that ideal of accessibility and independence is reached, students must be better informed so that they can plan accommodations.
But how do accessibility and independence relate to the objective?
Tomassetti discussed that question in terms of whether e-text is produced by the student or professionally. Students should have the choice of spending time to produce material or spending time reading and studying, Tomassetti said. Some factors to consider include print layout, production resources, and the end user.
Print layouts can contain columns, tables, foreign languages, special symbols, graphics, and non-standard fonts that optical character recognition (OCR) technology ignores or finds difficult to reproduce.
Production resources are affected by the quality–time trade-off. A student who “does it himself (or herself)” may have the text sooner, but visually impaired students cannot edit scanned work, which may be incomplete or may contain inaccuracies. Even some publishers’ files may not be complete: they may be missing graphics, for example. Moreover, time spent producing the book could be better spent reading other notes or books. Also, spending time to read poor quality material is inefficient.
The end-user factors include the nature of the print disability, the technology and technological skills available to the student, and the student’s course load, time demands, and learning style.
In closing, Tomassetti suggested replacing the terms “accessibility” and “independence” with “usability” and “efficiency.”