Can you read what I see?

I’m going to touch on an area that I don’t have a great deal of experience with but that I’ve thought about a lot: making teaching material available to students who are visually challenged. My terminology here is important because I don’t want to ‘deal with’ these students, mainly because I think that it sets my mind into the wrong framework. You ‘deal with’ parking tickets. You ‘deal with’ onerous problems. What I want to do is to make teaching material available to everyone but, if I’m using a visual focus, I have to consider alternative delivery mechanisms for people who don’t have that capability.

(I should note that, when I first wrote that paragraph, autocorrect decided that I wanted to make material available to students who were visually challengING. Proof reading is really your friend, sometimes.)

Let’s talk about one of the first issues you might encounter: people who are, to some degree, colour-blind. How many people do you think are colour-blind?

1 in a million?

1 in a thousand?

1 in a hundred?

8 in a 100 men are colourblind, compared to 1 in 200 women. Get 64 men in a class, you are 99% likely to have someone who is colour-blind. Most of these people will have red/green discrimination issues. The most extreme will see no colour at all.

So how do we deal with that? Well, a number of products have modes that allow you to simulate colour-blindness to see what your work will look like. Turn off the colour or print it in black and white – how easy is it to discriminate based on the contrast of the work stripped of colour. Given those numbers, you may have a friend or colleague who can look at your work and tell you how it works for them.

Does this mean that you can’t use colour? No! What it means is that you can’t depend upon colour alone for contrast and separation. Do you have a complicated pie chart with 27 segments, using colour to separate them. (Firstly, why? Too much fine detail can distract people from your core point.) What happens if you outline the segments in black and switch off the colour? Does it look like a bicycle wheel? In motion?

Colour as a highlight or attention grabber will work for the vast majority of the population. It is, however, always helpful to think about those 8 in a 100 who will not get your message if you have depended too much upon colour contrast or a particular shade mix. (As always, keep trying, find what works, learn, evolve, start over from step 1!)

The more severely visually impaired, where part of the field of vision is lost, will have different techniques for managing things. Some will need pre-printed blown-up notes. Some will use telescopes. In my experience, most people are very straight forward about their requirements.

The one challenge, I find, is where I have a diagram that I wish to explain to someone who has no sight or has never had any sight. There’s my L&T diagram on the first and second posts of this blog (Jan 1 and 2). The text for this should be:

“A diagram showing the relationship between learning, teaching and the flow of knowledge. Two circles are placed, horizontally, so that they overlap with a small intersection. The left-most circle contains a capital L character, the intersection contains an ampersand character and the right-most circle contains a capital R character. Lines with arrows on their ends are placed around the diagram to indicate information flow. Two arrows, starting from outside the left most circle, pierce the left-most circle’s left boundary, terminating inside, with their arrow heads pointing towards the intersection to indicate the knowledge flows into the Learner. A similar pair of arrows start inside the right most circle and cross the boundary, with the arrow heads outside and pointing away from the intersection to indicate that the flow of knowledge is from the Teacher to the teacher’s environment.”

Now, even then, I’m not all that happy with this description. I don’t know what it is to not have any visual information – does right most or left most make any sense? Should I be more abstract? Am I depending too much on visual cues, still?

However, thinking about it makes me think about what my diagram stands for, how I would explain it and, to be honest, any description is better than none if it’s honest and accurate.

As always, don’t make this an excuse NOT to try this out. Think of this as one more small piece of information that can make it easier when you do decide to give it a try.

If you happen to have personal experience on this, from addressing this or living this, please throw in a comment. I’d love to hear from you, even if you are going to tell me that I’ve got it all wrong – it’s the only way I’m going to learn.

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