A person with a visual impairment sitting outside on steps using their cell phone.

Perspectives from Higher Education Experts in Orientation and Mobility

Author: Nicholas J. Hoekstra; info@ciddl.org

In the November 30 CIDDL Webinar, How to select Technology and Design Instruction: Knowledge,  Skills and Abilities that Generalize Across Tools and Settings, Dr. Tara Courchaine interviewed Dr. Robert Wall Emerson, Dr. Sarahelizabeth Baguhn, and Dr. Nicholas Giudice regarding their processes for choosing technology to introduce in orientation and mobility (O&M) programs. The expert panel then went on to discuss how designers, policy makers, and end-users with disabilities can work together to ensure future technology is more inclusive from the start. 

How to choose technology in Higher Ed?

With the wide range of technologies that are available, it can be difficult to choose what tools can be introduced in the limited time available in a course. Dr. Emerson and Dr. Baguhn, who both train O&M instructors, approach this process by presenting categories of technologies that serve different end-users. According to Dr. Emerson, it is important to provide O&M instructors an overview of the history of technology tools. This helps them understand what types of tools have succeeded and why. Dr. Baguhn added that these technologies change quickly. The important skill that O&M instructors must walk away with is knowing how to match a tool to their client’s needs. 

Dr. Giudice brought up another important point. For him, it is important to emphasize those tools that work using commercial devices, sensors or platforms. The benefit of these technologies is that they tend to be cheaper, making them more readily available to most people. 

At the same time, technology can range from very low-tech devices to very high tech devices. All three panelists emphasized the importance of technologies at both ends of the spectrum. Dr. Baguhn highlighted that, even though a low-tech device like a compass might not be commonplace for your average blind traveler, it can still play an important role in teaching fundamental skills. A compass is a great tool for helping individuals who are blind understand how movement impacts direction. Dr. Emerson added that low-tech or high-tech, the value of any tool depends on the user being in control. 

How to Design Better Technology

One of the most pressing issues that the three panelists pointed out was the lack of communication between technology designers and end-users with disabilities. For that reason, Dr. Emerson emphasized how important it is that universities test any new technology with users with disabilities before adopting it. It is not enough to rely on the word of the designer. 

Considering the future of technology, however, Dr. Guidice had a positive outlook. Mainstream technologies are incorporating more and more multi-sensory outputs. This represents great potential for individuals with disabilities. Among the many exciting technologies referenced by the panelists were virtual reality, head-mounted cameras, and self driving cars. 

Key to the development of any new technology is ensuring that the right people are present in the room. This includes the developers, researchers, policy makers, and end-users. Developers know the potential of technology. Researchers can help explore and inform developments. Policy makers ensure that legislation is in place to help end-users gain access to new technologies., Finally, end-users – especially end-users with disabilities – ensure that technologies are useful and usable by the widest range of people. 

Dr. Baguhn summed it up best when she explained, “If people with disabilities had been present at the table in the first place, we wouldn’t need to retrofit anything.” 

Continue the discussion

Now, why don’t you use the technology of your choice and make your way over to the CIDDL Community? Let us know how you make decisions about the types of technologies to include in your programs. Whether you teach O&M or another topic, what has been your experience around teaching the use of tech?

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