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Disability eLearning

Do you wonder, what are hidden disabilities? Why should we care about them?

eLearning for Disabled

While most of us may design e-Learning for learners who have more “visible” disabilities such as those who are blind, deaf, or have mobility challenges, do any of us design for the more “hidden disabilities” such as Autism, Attention Deficit Disorder, Dyslexia, or Sensory Integration Dysfunction? Perhaps some of us do, depending on our experiences, but perhaps some of us wouldn’t know where to begin.

The Federal Government requires that electronic and information technology be made accessible to people with disabilities. It includes both visible disabilities and hidden disabilities. Our Instructional designers consider both visible disabilities and hidden disabilities when designing courses.

The below sections will tell you about more common hidden disabilities, describe characteristics of these disabilities, and then discuss techniques we incorporate into your projects in order to better meet these hidden needs. You may find that you are already implementing numerous techniques, but by reading this information you will be able to state specifically how you are addressing the needs of those with hidden disabilities.

Section 508 Overview

Section 508 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which was amended in 1998. This amendment, Section 508, states that electronic and information technology must be made accessible to people with disabilities. This includes eLearning. The purpose of Section 508 is to eliminate barriers in information technology, to make available new opportunities for people with disabilities, and to encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals.
It is important to note that not all agencies and organizations must comply with Section 508. If you work for the Federal Government, provide Federal Agencies with electronic and information technology, or work for a State Agency or provide electronic and information technology to a state agency in which that state mandates Section 508 compliance, then you do have to comply with Section 508. Many organizations and corporations in the private sector who are not required to meet Section 508 are doing so anyway, as they feel the requirements will “trickle down” to them in the near future, so they might as well be ahead of the game.

You may be thinking, “There seem to be too many disabilities for me to consider in my design! Are there specific ones covered under Section 508?” Section 508 simply refers to “people with disabilities.” Well, let’s first examine what a disability is considered to be. To find that answer, we need to turn to another law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Americans with Disability Act (ADA)

ADA prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation. ADA states that a disabled individual is a person who meets at least one of the following tests:

1. He or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his/her major life activities.
2. He or she has a record of such impairment.
3. He or she is regarded as having such impairment.

Note: Those impairments may be physiological, psychological, or mental. So, in essence, the law considers a disability to be any one of a long list of items as long as the above criteria are met. Unfortunately, this definition does little to narrow down the list of disabilities we should design for, but don’t get discouraged! Read on and you may be surprised by what is revealed!

Visible disability vs. hidden disability

You may hear disabilities referred to as visible or as hidden. Visible disabilities are those that you can clearly observe. For example, a person with a visible disability may be blind, paralyzed, or deaf. Hidden disabilities are more difficult to observe. In other words, you cannot directly infer hidden disabilities. Examples of hidden disabilities may include dyslexia, low vision, autism, or visual perceptual deficit.

People with hidden disabilities frequently do not make their disability known to upper management, coworkers, or colleagues. As an instructional designer, we most likely will not have knowledge of whether our target audience includes people with hidden disabilities. Thus, we typically consider hidden disabilities as being a characteristic of your audience. It is important to note that people with hidden disabilities discussed here, have average to above average intelligence.

Types of Hidden Disabilities

Few common hidden disabilities are mentioned below:

Acquired Brain Injury
Acquired Brain Injury could be caused by lack of oxygen, poisoning, infection, or trauma to the head such as a strike by an object (most common type of brain injury).

Auditory Perpetual Deficit
This means that a person has difficulty receiving accurate information through auditory means, even though there is not a problem with their hearing.

Autism is a complex developmental disability, and affects each person differently and in varying degrees, as it is a spectrum disorder.

Depression is one of the most common and most serious mental disorders.

Sensory Integration Dysfunction
It is a neurological disorder. This disorder refers to a person’s ability to register and process information from their five commonly known senses (vision, auditory, touch, olfaction, and taste) plus their sense of movement and their positional sense.

Multiple Sclerosis
MS is a chronic disease of the central nervous system that causes destruction of a protein that forms a protective coating around the nerve cells.

Design Techniques for Hidden Disabilities

The above disabilities are a small subset of possible hidden disabilities. At first glance it may seem that designing for these mentioned disabilities would be out of the question or near impossible. Let’s look more closely at common characteristics of the disabilities discussed above. Are there any commonalities we can pull from the list of characteristics?
Let’s begin with Acquired Brain Injury. One common characteristic of this hidden disability is a deficit in information processing; also, we find that challenges in information processing are also common among people with Autism.
The point is that many hidden disabilities share common characteristics. As a matter of fact, hidden disabilities are typically grouped together based on type. For example, the hidden disabilities listed above could be grouped into three categories: those related to cognition, chronic health problems, and psychological disorders.
So, Possible design strategies for persons who display information processing deficits, limitations in memory, a short attention span, or slow rates of reading may be to chunk information into smaller pieces, rather than displaying long strings of information. We make sure the content in your course is simple, clear and to the point. You may also supply supplemental illustrations.

Still confused! How we identify and implement these Design techniques

Below table will make you understand, how we implement these techniques in eLearning

Identified Characteristics

Difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication and social interactions, may process and respond to information in unique ways, display uneven gross or fine motor skills, and may be non-responsive to verbal cues.

Design Techniques used by ID’s

• Multi modal Presentation
• High contrast between text and background
• Provide alternative navigation
• Have a specific use for sound, no arbitrary sound

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