2nd Edition of e-Learning and Disability in Higher Education out 18th August

e-Learning and Disability in Higher Education front cover
e-Learning and Disability in Higher Education front cover

A new edition of e-Learning and Disability in Higher Education: Accessibility, Research and Practice by Jane Seale (@janeseale, Professor of Inclusive Education at the University of Exeter) is out in paperback later this month. This seminal text was first published in 2006 and, given our fast-changing digital and educational landscape, this fully revised edition is a welcome development.

E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education supplied part of the foundation for my research into disabled students’ experiences of social media when I began my PhD – so I’m delighted that the accessible, internet-enabled research methods I developed for my doctoral work feature in the new edition as a best-practice case study.

The publishers have released the following summary:

Most people working within the higher education sector understand the importance of making e-learning accessible to students with disabilities, yet it is not always clear exactly how this should be accomplished. E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education evaluates current accessibility practice and critiques the extent to which ‘best’ practices can be confidently identified and disseminated. This second edition has been fully updated and includes a focus on research that seeks to give ‘voice’ to disabled students in a way that provides an indispensable insight into their relationship with technologies and the institutions in which they study. Examining the social, educational, and political background behind making online learning accessible in higher and further education, E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education considers the roles and perspectives of the key stake-holders involved in e-learning: lecturers, professors, instructional designers, learning technologists, student support services, staff developers, and senior managers and administrators.

Reviews are available via the Routledge site from Dr Simon Ball (@simonjball), Senior Advisor at the UK’s higher education advisory service Jisc TechDis, Dr, Alan Foley, Associate Professor of Instructional Technology at Syracuse University and Dr. Robert A. Stodden, Director and Professor, Center on Disability Studies, University of Hawaii at Manoa. 

e-Learning and Disability in Higher Education is released on the 18th of August; By all accounts this will make essential reading for university professionals in e-learning, student support and related fields.

Slewth Press Back Online

Good news. After a 5 month hiatus, Slewth Press is back in action. Thanks to Jon Gibbin‘s technical chops my blog has been rescued from digital limbo, re-homed and valetted. To celebrate this restoration, I have articles queued up covering new research, publications and forthcoming work. I hope to satisfy all your disability theory, digital sociology and accessibility research needs.  Perhaps most importantly, I recently submitted my 2011 thesis (Disability 2.0: Student Experiences of Disability and Social Networks on Campus in Higher Education) to Nottingham University’s eThesis repository as an accessible PDF so I will be signposting the work as soon as it becomes available (for free, to all). I will also be blogging hints, tips and hacks for others wanting to accessify huge documents and complex images. Subscribe to get these posts direct to your inbox.

Author’s Draft: Difference on Display Review

Difference on Display Front Cover
The front cover of ‘Difference on Display: Diversity in Art, Science and Society’. Audio description of the artwork depicted and other artworks from the exhibition is available to download via the DaDaFest webpages.

Back in October my review of Difference on Display: Diversity in Art, Science and Society was published in the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies.

In my blog post introducing the review I promised to share a link to an open access author’s draft. This draft is now available via my publication page on academia.edu.

If you’d like more information about the pros and cons of using and deploying author’s drafts and more detailed analysis on open access publishing and repositories from an academic and institutional perspective I highly recommend reading/following Brian Kelly’s UK Web Focus blog.  His thoughts on the benefits and costs of institutional repositories for example, are both detailed and comprehensive.

Heartbreaking Works of Staggering Genius: Babies in Higher Education

Attentive readers will have noticed very little activity here at Slewth Press over the past few months and with good reason. I recently completed a significant 9 month project 2 weeks ahead of schedule. Yes, I’ve had a baby!  I began maternity leave at the end of December and Joseph was born in the new year.  Myself and Mr Slewth are delighted.

There is huge ongoing debate over parenting, gender and discrepancies in career progress in higher education at present. This blog is not a baby blog (there are many excellent academic online reads to be had in this area already), however, on this occasion, I would like to indulge my reflections on one topic: tots and publication.

With parenthood come a raft of new experiences and identities. Not to mention physical, emotional, logistical and practical considerations that for women begin long before birth. However, for academics, particular issues loom large.

UK universities are currently in the thrall of preparations for the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2014. This government activity is used to determine where substantial research funding should be allocated. In short the REF assesses published output and acts accordingly. Not all academics’ work will be ‘returned’ for this assessment by their institutions, but universities will perform a census of their academics publications. Academics are required to have four items of published ‘output’ (books, articles, papers, chapters) to submit in 2014. These works are ranked on the following scale:

  • Unclassified: Quality that falls below the standard of nationally recognised work. Or work which does not meet the published definition of research for the purposes of this assessment.
  • One star: Quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
  • Two star: Quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significancy and rigour.
  • Three star: Quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour but which falls short of the highest standards of excellence.
  • Four star: Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour.

In short, if you are a ‘four star’ academic, you are officially a big deal.

Why is this important? As jobs.ac.uk observes:

If you are currently at the start of your career and looking for a permanent job … if you have any strong publications … you are more likely to be hired during this period because you will be able to offer something to your new department’s submission.

Importantly, a strong REF return also sets a precedent for future returns in the minds of employers. The effect is cumulative.

How does this relate to babies?

The REF is controversial in the UK. Debate focusses on the nature of Impact (a central criterion based on ‘reach’ and ‘significance’), the role of Open Access journals (which often lack the impact status of established journals, despite being more widely read), an implicit ranking of journal papers over books, and so on. Controversy also gathers around particular dispensations. Firstly, if you recently completed your PhD, as an Early Career Researcher you will only be required to return two publications. Secondly, if you have undertaken maternity (or paternity) leave, your baby is ‘worth’ one academic publication (which fails to account for the physical stresses of antenatal experience).  An academic who has taken maternity leave need only (at present) return 3 publications out of the mandated 4. Valuing a baby as a -1 publication (of unknown rigour) seems to me to miss a trick. A baby is clearly a work of Staggering Genius. Show me a baby that isn’t ‘world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour’! However, as a none publication, it is unclear whether an infant is valued as equivalent to a high quality omission, or lower rated publication. Without some sort of positive recognition the issue remains that any academic CV that lacks publications (due to maternity, paternity, ill health, disability or any other protected context) will look deficient to recruiters, whilst the disclosure of the above remain a moot point in terms of combatting implicit or explicit discrimination.

In any event, I, for one, intend to take my baby out of the bottom drawer and place him on the top shelf.

Some interesting reflections on this area include:

If you have any comments or links to recommend I’d love to hear them. Please post below.

Difference on Display: Diversity in Art, Science and Society

Difference on Display Front Cover
The front cover of ‘Difference on Display: Diversity in Art, Science and Society’. Audio description of the artwork depicted and other artworks from the exhibition is available to download via the DaDaFest webpages.

This week I received news that my review of Ine Gever’s book Difference on Display: Diversity in Art, Science and Society has just been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies (vol 6.3).

Here’s the opening gambit:

In 2002 Tom Shakespeare and Nick Watson declared disability to be the “quintessential postmodern concept”; it defies classification because it is “so complex, so variable, so contingent, so situated” (19). Difference on Display: Diversity in Art, Science and Society exalts this postmodern view, offering the reader a complex and varied response to the shifting frontier between disabled and non-disabled. The book was devised to accompany Niet Normaal: Difference on Display, an exhibition of new and existing artworks by international and contemporary disabled and non-disabled artists, designers, film-makers, and their collaborators. Niet Normaal was conceived in the Netherlands, originally exhibiting in Amsterdam. The exhibition came to the UK in Liverpool as part of the DaDa Fest and the Olympic Games Cultural Programme for London 2012. The result is a book that is part exhibition catalogue and part visual treatise on the ambiguity of the human condition in high modernity. Importantly, the book is also an artefact, a physical object evidencing a world at the margins of media and discourses. As Editor-in-Chief, the activist and curator Ine Gevers states that the artworks depicted express a “visual and non-discursive discourse” (24). This “non-discursive discourse” identifies the process of manifesting what is unsaid in its “brute being” (Foucault 131). Accordingly, diverse cultural products that examine normalcy are gathered to establish a new perspective on the self in society. In this way, Difference on Display asks “what is normal” and “who decides this” from a variety of angles, supplying a welcome resource to viewers/readers across disability studies and related disciplines…

The article is available to academic readers who are registered with Athens. However, for wider audiences the paper is not currently available. In the short term, a substantial extract is available on the articles page in lieu of an abstract.

In the longer term, I will be making a pre-edited draft version available via Pure, the new King’s College London repository. As King’s is currently testing Pure, contents are not externally available, however as soon as this position changes, I will upload my copy to the repository. Ultimately, this will mean that all readers can access an earlier version of the review (prior to editorial input and revisions) in keeping with the Journal’s copyright. I’ll be sure to post here as soon as this version becomes available!

In the meantime, I highly recommend you check out:

Full reference: Lewthwaite, S. (2012) Review: Ine Gevers, “Difference on Display: Diversity in Art, Science and Society”Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability StudiesVol 6. Issue 3. pp. 348 – 351.

International Handbook of Psychology in Education out in Paperback

International Handbook of Psychology in Education (cover)
International Handbook of Psychology in Education

I’m pleased to say that the International Handbook of Psychology in Education is just about to be released in paperback, halving it’s original cost (in the UK from £99.99 to £50.00).

This collection includes a chapter that I co-authored with Professor Charles Crook, Director of the Learning Sciences Research Institute at the University of Nottingham. Our chapter “the Networked Student: a socio-cultural perspective” reviews the distinct phases of educational technology in students lives and wider educational research from a socio-cultural perspective.


International Handbook of Psychology in Education: Synopsis

“The International Handbook of Psychology in Education” provides researchers, practitioners and advisers working in the fields of psychology and education with an overview of cutting-edge research across a broad spectrum of work within the domain of psychology of education. The chapters in the handbook are authored by internationally recognised researchers, from across Europe, North America and the Pacific Rim. As well as covering the latest thinking within established areas of enquiry, the handbook includes chapters on recently emerging, yet important, topics within the field and explicitly considers the inter-relationship between theory and practice. A strong unifying theme is the volume’s emphasis on processes of teaching and learning. The work discussed in the handbook focuses on typically developing school-age children, although issues relating to specific learning difficulties are also addressed.

You can discover more about the book as a whole via Emerald or Amazon. The paperback is available for Pre-Order from Emerald and will be available via other major retailers soon.

With a significantly lower price, I’m hoping new audiences will now have access to this work. The publishers have also indicated that they are happy to hear from instructors who are interested in receiving an inspection copy for possible use on a course. If you think this is relevant to you, contact books@emeraldinsight.com. If you want to recommend the book for your library, or request my chapter for inter-library loan, the two relevant references are below.

  • Littleton, C., Wood, & J., Kleine Staarman (Eds.) International Handbook of Psychology in Education. Emerald: UK.
  • Crook, C. & Lewthwaite, S. (2010) The Networked Student, a socio-cultural perspective. IN K. Littleton, C., Wood, & J., Kleine Staarman (Eds.) International Handbook of Psychology in Education. Emerald: UK.

Global Approaches to Learning and Accessibility

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about globalised approaches to web accessibility. Much of the web, its infrastructure, standards, models, resources and code are knitted together in what is known as the ‘global North’. Importantly, the vast majority of disabled people live in the ‘global South’. As a result, a growing concern is that Northern views of the web and disability are implicitly exported to Southern users and developers, whose knowledge and understanding is undervalued, or colonised as a result; with potentially counter-productive outcomes for disabled users. This is an unclear picture, because in real terms, there is very little evidence as to disabled people’s uses of technology globally. Pockets of research exist, but these tend to be within industrialised, urban situations, rather than within low-income or emerging economies – even within this frame, the comparability of data and definitions of disability vary widely.

Within UK disability studies, there is an increasing movement towards recognising how eurocentric and Northern the discipline is. I have been thinking a lot about the intersection between disability studies and accessibility – and how one might inform the other. Important thinking points are becoming more visible in the disability studies literature, but this is not always available to designers, developers or web accessibility educators. I highlight the following reading list associated with a forthcoming course (and attendance grant) recently highlighted on the Disability Research discussion email list: Disability and Poverty in the Global South: Activating European Movements for Change. I recommend joining this list. I should also state that the readings below are only a small snippet of a growing literature.

The reading list includes:

The course itself has the following details:

Disability and Poverty in the Global South: Activating European Movements for Change

The recent World Report on Disability estimates that some one billion people around the globe are disabled and some 80% live in the global South. Around 20% of the world’s poorest are disabled people. This course builds on the EU development policy and its commitment to raising awareness of development issues, promoting development education and mobilizing support for poverty reduction. A transnational panel from academia and civil society will help to engage critically and discuss these themes. Come and share your experiences and reflections on the island of Malta in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

This short course is organised by Integra Foundation (Malta) in collaboration with Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) (UK). Apply for a Grundtvig grant (adult education) to participate in the training “Disability and Poverty in the Global South: Activating European Movements for Change”- in Malta- ALL COSTS COVERED (Course fees, flight, accommodation and food).

Guest speakers include: Dan Goodley (University of Sheffield) and Shaun Grech (Manchester Metropolitan University). For more information on this Grundtvig course, please follow these links: Course information and Course venue and accommodation (PDF)

Eligibility criteria

  • – Any adult interested in lifelong learning opportunities, or who is working in the sphere of adult education e.g. civil society, policy makers, voluntary groups etc.
  • – A national of any EU country, or of Lifelong Learning Program participating countries- Turkey, Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein.

If you would like to participate, please download the Registration form (http://integrafoundation.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/disability-registration-form.docx) and return by email to integrafoundation@gmail.com

We will then advise you on the simple process to apply for the grant. Deadline for applications:16th September 2012!

Should you have any questions on the grant application or the course, please feel free to contact Maria Pisani E-mail:integrafoundation@gmail.com

I hope this is of use.

Rhetorical AccessAbility Reviews Posted

Rhetorical AccessAbility edited by Lisa MelonconThis post is a second trailer for a new book ‘Rhetorical AccessAbility: At the Intersection of Technical Communication and Disability Studies’, edited by Lisa Meloncon at the University of Cincinnati to be released later this year. I penned a chapter for this book in collaboration with Henny Swan, Senior Accessibility Specialist at the BBC. Together we consider ‘Web Standards and the Majority World’, taking a socio-cultural look at the values that web standards convey to a global audience.  In particular we were interested in examining the ways in which Web Standards can export Minority (that is developed/Northern/post-industrial) notions of disability to the Majority world, with potentially counter-productive results. We make our arguments by attending closely to Web Standards as a form of technical writing through the lens of critical disability studies and research.

Publishers Baywood have listed Rhetorical Accessibility as available for pre-order as part of their Technical Communications Series (Edited by series editor Charles H. Sides). Their pages include the publishers’ book summary and target audience information which I’ve previously blogged about. Further details are now available, however, including the front cover (pictured above), profiles of all the authors and the following reviews in praise of the book.

Rhetorical Accessability is an important book, not only because it elucidates a range of critical work being done at the intersection of technical communication and disability studies, but, more importantly, because it demonstrates convincingly how work in these areas—which some still consider highly specialized concerns—directly affects every one of us, every day, whether we know it or not. By foregrounding the productive interplay of theories from disability studies and technical communication, the authors highlight how issues of inclusive content, accessible design, medical discourse, and technological embodiment are at work in all of our daily lives. In so doing, Rhetorical Accessability represents a major step toward a broader field of writing studies, toward work on crucial issues in writing that span personal, academic, civic, and professional discourses, that unite scholars of rhetoric, composition, technical communication, literacy studies, linguistics, and other fields.

Paul Heilker, Director of the PhD in Rhetoric and Writing, Virginia Tech.

On every page, this groundbreaking collection—the first of its kind in the field of technical communication—reminds us that disability studies deserves to play a central role in our pedagogies, workplace practices, and scholarship. Lisa Meloncon has assembled an excellent, wide-ranging collection of chapters from both established experts and new scholars. The topics and theoretical lenses are diverse and broad. The chapters are deeply grounded and well-informed. They combine theory and practice in true tech comm fashion. The coverage of web accessibility is excellent, comprising multiple chapters and topics (e-readers, laws, guidelines, accessibility statements, online writing instruction). I’m already planning to add this book to the list of required readings for my graduate course in Web Accessibility and Disability Studies.”

Sean Zdenek, Associate Professor of Technical Communication and Rhetoric, Texas Tech University.

Inclusive Learning Special Interest Group

Next week I will be presenting research on student experiences of Disability and Social Media to the Association for Learning Technology’s Inclusive Learning Special Interest Group (ILSIG). The ILSIG have a monthly one-hour seminar online (using Blackboard Collaborate 11), this month it falls on Friday 28th June, 1.30pm. This seminar is only available to Association for Learning Technology members, but if such events are of interest to you, it’s worth noting that individual memberships begin at £29. I initially joined ALT as a postgraduate student to receive a discount on the annual conference and access to the Journal of Research in Learning Technology. Research in Learning Technology is now open access online. However, the associations other activities, publications, email discussion lists and events, including its special interest groups are worth supporting and getting involved in, so if you’re working in this area, do consider membership.

Moving on from Feedburner: An accessible alternative for WordPress

A few days ago I made a small but significant change to my blog, thanks to a brilliant post on an accessible email subscription plug-in for WordPress by Laura Legendary in her blog post “Try this accessible tool to increase blog readership“. Laura identifies the Subscribe2 plugin and it’s associated widget in terms of their benefits to her readership. Up until this point, I had used Google’s feedburner to handle subscription interest. However, I have always had concerns about Feedburner. It is a great tool, particularly in terms of analytics. But it is one that requires a subscriber to enter their email address and then complete a CAPTCHA test. Subscribe2 does not ‘test’ subscribers in this way; it requires only an email address and confirmation – with significant accessibility benefits as a result.

Subscription window for Feedburner
The Feedburner subscription window

CAPTCHA is a contrived acronym for ‘Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart’. It usually appears in the form of a distorted image of a word that must be decoded in a challenge and response test. The inaccessibility of CAPTCHA remains a well known, well critiqued, but nonetheless-persistent force in social media and hence accessibility circles. In my own experience, during my PhD research with disabled students, CAPTCHA was identified as a significant access barrier for those with visual impairments, exposing one of the mundane rituals required for registration on any social media site as deeply problematic. I discuss this in my thesis as follows, highlighting the experiences of student Claire to evidence this access barrier, in this case in the use of Facebook and other social media.

“Threshold Barriers”

“For Claire, CAPTCHA presented a significant barrier. To enter any ‘networked public’ CAPTCHA requires the user to recognise and reproduce a distorted image of letters that appear on screen. This image is designed to be invisible to machines – specifically spamming robots – however, this fact also renders the image contained in the text invisible to screen readers.  As a result, Claire cannot complete registration. Claire does not find the audio equivalents featured on more progressive websites much easier, as the ‘sound’ of the word is also distorted to thwart computers:

There’s a CAPTCHA to sign in, so I struggle with that. I can see if I have to, but obviously, the screen reader is not going to get anywhere with that and the audio ones – Facebook has an audio one – but the audio ones have to be distorted, so that a computer can’t pick it up, and they’re so distorted that you can’t hear them anyway. And what happens sometimes, is, I don’t know if you can see here with the log-in [See figure 6.1]. It gets cut off. So on a site I tried to sign up to the other day you had only half the CAPTCHA, so you couldn’t read it, so there’s absolutely no hope.
(Claire) p256″

One specific flaw with the accessibility of CAPTCHA that Claire identifies, is the inefficacy of audio equivalents In the image above showing the Feedburner registration window, an audio equivalent is offered via a button using a disability symbol of a person in a wheelchair.  For hearing readers, I challenge you to listen to Feedburner’s audio version and decipher it http://feedburner.google.com/fb/a/mailverify?uri=SlewthPress I certainly heard something, but I have no idea what is was, what I ended up entering certainly didn’t cut the mustard.
Ultimately, the knock-on effect of such inaccessibility is a significant restriction in the web services available to some print-impaired internet users. In this way a technical barrier becomes an excluding social barrier. Of course, some screenreader users will deploy work-arounds to overcome these kinds of restrictions, but this is still extra work that cannot completely alleviate an outsider status, determined by deployment of CAPTCHA in the first place.  In short, I’m glad to finally have an alternative to Feedburner – and hope you will consider the addition of a CAPTCHA-free option, such as Subscribe2, for your own blogs and in your choice of social media.