Our week of Introduction begins with a look into the necessity of accessibility in education. A complex issue in its own right, accessibility poses layered challenges for educators to navigate. Differences among students in terms of ability, technology, economy, and household betray the myth of a singular (or unified) student body.
Access differences reinforce hierarchy and domination, and not just in terms of class or status. In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks writes that “part of our contemporary crisis is created by a lack of meaningful access to truth.” Those words, published in 2014, feel urgently, critically relevant in today's "post-truth" world. Addressing the contemporary crisis hooks discusses may very well be the greatest challenge facing modern education. And it all starts with providing access.
As Robin DeRosa explained in her interview for HybridPod, providing accessible (aka open or free) textbooks and educational resources has consequences beyond the bottom line of a singe course. Students often opt to not buy a textbook, which limits their preparedness for a course. But when a course has no textbook costs, students immediately have access to all the material they need for success. At Robin's institution, “we are seeing the repercussions for that in their pass rates in courses and their withdrawal and drop rates which slow down their time to graduation. All that stuff I think is a more compelling case than just reduced textbook costs.” Providing access to one course, then, ultimately provides access to far more.
Similarly, access to one form of knowledge or one epistemology does not preclude others. We need to teach (and learn for ourselves) how to critically navigate a variety of media, but we cannot forget the importance of alphabetic reading. In an interview for the Media Education Foundation, bell hooks says,
Two major factors of intervention have to do with both critical thinking and then the capacity to read and write. Because so much enlightening information only comes through the printed page, so if people are not able to read and write they already don't have access to those forms of enlightenment. I mean if we look at someone like Malcolm X, he charts his own intellectual development through reading. If you look at me I chart major radical interventions in my life with books that I've read. Not movies that I've seen, not television shows, but books that I've read. We cannot over-value enough the importance of literacy to a culture that is deeply visual. I mean rather than seeing literacy and the visual and our pleasure in the visual as oppositional to one another, I think we have to see them as compatible with one another. I don't think we will get much further in terms of decolonizing our minds.
In talking about visual and textual literacies, hooks touches on the ways we process the world. Our understanding of the world takes shape based on the way(s) in which we perceive it. As critical educators, we strive toward liberation and greater student agency. We must therefore create opportunities for students to take agency not merely over their approach to a course but over their methods of perceiving the course and its subjects. We must ask ourselves, for instance, how approaching our subject matter would differ for someone who is neurodivergent. Or depressed. Or ill. How does lived experience affect a student's presence for — and interface with — a course, and how can that lived experience enrich and inform the student's learning?
Issues of access often become issues of equity because many obstacles preventing access to ideas, courses, or facilities have their roots in systemic inequities. Each of us, regardless of our position within the academy, bears responsibility for promoting equal access to programs, systems, courses, content…the list goes on.
Today's work aims to get each of us to consider that responsibility and how we can use our role, position, and/or privilege to promote access for others.
Discussions of accessibility often prompt us to question our assumptions about how students will/can get to their course content. The ability to access a course, its materials, or its ideas also hinges on issues of attention. How does a person's available attention (or their ability to manage it) influence how they access the material, the people, the discussions of a course?
Does access work the same for everyone involved? What do learners need access to? How does ed tech affect or ignore issues of access?
The question most people ask here is how we can ensure that every elementary student gets an iPad. But how do we ensure that a class explicitly and proactively provides equitable learning opportunities for marginalized students? And what can we do to advocate and make space for folks too often excluded from resources or discussions about access?
Refer to the equity-while-watching-baseball graphic. Then read why it’s problematic, consider how that meme has evolved, and examine other potential metaphors. What metaphor would you recommend for discussing educational equity? How do you make sense of the situation, and what solutions do you propose?
Choose a project that best engages your interest and aligns with your needs. We encourage you to publish your responses on a public platform you already have access to, be that a personal blog or anything that lets you share your work openly, using #DPLIntro.
Select a specific (dis/different)ability group to learn about or advocate for. [Opening sentence revised Jul 29 thanks to Brittni.] Select a specific user need grounded in one or multiple identities which include age, class, citizenship status, disability, first language, geography, gender, race, sex, sexual orientation, spirituality, size, etc. Identify challenge points that group experiences when faced with syllabi, lessons, or courses. What needs to happen to improve equity for that group, in both physical and digital spaces? Rewrite/redesign a syllabus, lesson, course, or policy that demonstrates this accommodation.
Philosophical — Draft a policy statement for your institution that ensures accessibility (or equity), in as many permutations as possible.
Technical — Take a site or platform used in this or any class — or one you made or maintain — and run it through W3C markup validation service, the WAVE accessibility evaluation tool, or some other system to check the site’s accessibility. What human problems could result from what you discover? Whom do you notify of the issue(s), and how do you initiate this conversation? An insistence on accessibility brings with it a set of values; are those shared?
Collaborative Activity: The Curb Cut Effect
We’ve looked at the situations faced by students with specific needs due to different abilities, and you’ve identified ways to ensure accessibility for those students. How do the accommodations you suggested for those students benefit others not included in the demographic you studied?
That collateral benefit is often referred to as the “curb-cut effect,” thanks to the benefits experienced by the elderly, those with strollers, and many others after the polio community of Berkeley, CA, got access to their city’s sidewalks for the first time. (Learn more about the political-activism origins of curb cuts via journal article or podcast episode.)