With the evolution of technology, new tools are becoming more and more available for learning. There are platforms for reading as well as tools for submitting projects and papers online. There are even tools for teachers and educators to keep their students’ grades in one place. These tools can be very beneficial in most cases, but inaccessibility is a barrier as it is with many websites and digital platforms.
Throughout my college career, I was exposed to many web portalsweb portals and digital platforms. I had success with some, but many were inaccessible for me as a non-visual user. The one I used the most in college, however, was Blackboard Learn. Many of my friends and peers explained that Blackboard was difficult to navigate with vision, and this was also the case for me. I worked to learn the layout of the system with an Assistive Technology Specialist and became proficient with Blackboard. I learned how to do most functions, and stuck to these steps each time I logged in. Of course, there were hiccups such as updates to the system which left necessary features hidden to my screen reader and new tools utilized by certain professors which were very complex for me. I also attempted to use the mobile version of Blackboard on my iPhone with Voiceover, and had limited success. When I encountered issues with Blackboard that I was unable to get through on my own, I would enlist the help of my roommates and friends. Most of my professors were also very understanding, and found alternatives when I could not access certain tools. My Stats professor arranged office hours to work on practice problems which I could not access in the E-Book, and a Communications professor helped me to research accessible WordPress plugins when we were creating our own blogs. Some of these tools were accessible, but took double the time to use since the webpages were not labeled properly. My university’s website became inaccessible for a time after major updates were introduced, but I explained the problem to some of the webmasters and they worked to fix this.
The biggest lesson I learned in college was not to procrastinate when IT tools were involved. When researching for a project or paper, many of the online journals were PDF images (read as blank with most screen readers), websites were scroll-based, and most frustrating to me, search and next buttons were often not labeled. I always found an alternative, but this should not be the case. Whenever I decide to return to school for a Master’s degree, I hope that these issues are not as prevalent in higher education. I appreciate those developers who have taken the time to build in accessibility features such as MackinVia. There is nothing more gratifying than utilizing IT Tools independently and completing assignments. Here’s to the patience gained when dealing with these inaccessible products and portals, and to the day when equal access is the norm!