Using online Virtual Learning Environments with screen readers or magnification.

Working with different online environments can be very difficult,  especially if your access technology such as a screen reader or magnification program does not work with the chosen course software. There is also the issue of accessing files in different formats that have been uploaded to say Blackboard or Moodle.  The problem is that many institutions set up their systems in different ways, so you may not have the option to change the view other than by the way you use your browser. Blackboard colour choices

There is usually a way of changing the background colour and font size and colour of a learning environment, either by the settings of the program (as is the case with Blackboard) or via Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and other browsers, if not on the university computers, at least on your own computer. BBC My Web My Way has some easy instructions.  It is also possible to use a plug-in for your browser such as ATBar which offers font magnification, increases line spacing and colour changes – there is also a Moodle add-in called Moodle Block:Accessibility . Guides for using the JAWS screen reader with Blackboard exist and there is a YouTube video on using JAWS with Moodle.

It is important to be aware that although you may be able to navigate around the main part of the system there may be issues with the chat options and forums.  Insist on clear subject lines and easy ways of knowing when the discussion has changed topic.

If you are downloading documents, you may need to change their file format such as PDF to text format.  This is where a specialist service like RoboBraille can help or a general purpose one like Zamzar which offers many more file formats. MyAccessStudies is a service that has a choice of online assistive technologies to use with the uploaded documents.   DropBox allows you to view documents on your mobile or iPad in a chosen app.  Sadly none of these systems will work with diagrams, graphics and maps if you are accessing them with a screen reader and options such as tactile drawings using swell paper could be an alternative and the RNIB offer an accessible images service.

The next Accessiblog will provide links to desktop applications that can help with file format changes and ways of working with graphs and mathematical symbols but as a starter “The Access2Science web site provides articles and links on accessibility of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).” with specific links to some of the applications.