Here is a copy of the response Mr. Gotwals posted in response to
more than one comment concerning the inaccessibility of Braille
Online to the blind.
Date: Wed, 18 Dec 1996 08:33:40 -0500
From: Bob Gotwals <gotwals@SHODOR.ORG
Subject: Re: Interest in On-line Braille Course
To: Multiple recipients of list EASI <EASI@SJUVM.STJOHNS.EDU
To Jim and others on this list....
We are VERY aware of the fact that the current design of the braille online
folks makes it difficult for blind individuals to participate easily. This
is a three year program....Years one and two are concerned with developing
and pilot testing the curriculum, and experimenting with the use of current
and emerging technologies to try to think of new ways of presenting braille
education. If you read the grant proposal
(http://www.shodor.org/braille/grant/braillegrant.html), you will notice
that we intend, once the courses are pilot-tested, to ensure that all of
the materials are 100% accessible. We had asked the granting agency for
funding to do this earlier, but this portion of the request was not funded.
What WAS funded was the money to develop the materials and to investigage
the use of advanced technologies, such as JAVA and VRML, in the teaching of
What we are COUNTING on is that the improvements in Web browsers for blind
folks by others who are being funded by the Federal government (and other
agencies) will make our additional task of ensuring accessibility that much
easier. Yes, there are a number of things that we can do early on, such as
make liberal and clever use of ALT tags for images. We're not sure yet how
we're going to handle the heavy use that we make of screen snapshots, but
we're working on it. We THINK we'll be able to go a long way towards 100%
accessibility from the early stages.
What are our options? If there is the demand that the course be 100%
accessible from Day One, our option might be: we can't do that at this
stage of the game, either for the amount of money awarded us by the
granting agency and/or because of technical limitations. In other words,
we don't even try, give the money back. If folks are willing to give us
the time we need to develop the course, work on the technological
advancements, get bugs out, and wait/work with others who are looking to
improve browsers, then perhaps everyone wins.
I've worked in the VI field as a braillist/teacher for almost 35 years. My
masters degree is in education of the hearing-impaired from the National
Technical Institute for the Deaf, I taught at Gallaudet, am fluent in sign
language. I am WELL-AWARE of all the issues concerning accessibility, and
we thought a lot about this issue early on (and is why we asked for the
additional funding to make it happen!).
This braille ed program is, by the way, part of a larger VI masters degree
program that is being developed at North Carolina Central University. The
idea is to make a large part of that program accessible over the net, and
the braille course is the first test of that concept. We sure would like a
chance to make it work....again, if there is a demand that the effort be
made to ensure 100% accessibility in the experimental phase, we can pretty
much ensure that the experiment will fail.
Tell us what to do. The Foundation that I work for is a group of
computational scientists and educators -- we do chemistry and physics on
high-performance computers. We want to do this work because we think it's
important, because we think we have something to offer, and because we care
deeply about the community. Our original budget proposal was HALF of what
we were awarded -- the US Department of Education felt so strongly that
this work was important that they asked us to look at new technologies as
well as design the series of courses. As computational scientists, we
think we can take some of the techniques that we use on a daily basis to do
science to the problem of helping folks understand braille better.
Hopefully, we'll have a chance to figure that out, THEN deal with the
problem(s) of accessibility.
Looking forward to a REASONED and REASONABLE discussion of these issues.
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