Thursday, January 13, 2011

Inaccessibility of Academia

This post follows closely on the heels of my announcement that I am going back to school. As I write it, part of me wonders what crazy person would subject themselves to this for the next two years, but at the same time, I am very excited to start a new program. But let me start at the beginning so that this might be a bit less confusing.
Tomorrow I am finally writing my licensing exam for massage therapy. It's nearly seven months after I graduated and is a long time coming. That said, I have had to be studying in order to ensure I am prepared for tomorrow. The fun part about the exam, is not its 300 questions, but the fact that it is multiple choice. I hate multiple choice-always have, always will. I tend to over think the answers and end up getting the answer wrong. But it's not the exam itself that is frustrating me; at least not yet. My studying process isn't going so well. It is another example of how learning is so inaccessible.
In order to write the exam, there is a specific handbook and textbook that the supervising organisation suggests we use. That is all fine and dandy, but the book is not offered in an accessible format. I had a few choices-I could order the book and scan it myself and read it on my computer, or I could have contacted the publisher to see if they had an electronic form that I could purchase instead of the hard copy. In anticipation of both avenues being time consuming, I searched online for an electronic learning tool and found one. I perused the home page and found that I could operate everything with my screen reading software. I just assumed the entire site would be as easy to nevagate-mistake number one. The cost of the membership was as much as the hard copy book, so I opted for the website. I figured it was the same price and allowed me to independently study. Boy was I wrong.
Upon being granted entry to the main page that contained the lectures and practice tests, I quickly realised that the page was not accessible at all. I couldn't negotiate any of the menus myself to get the lectures started or stopped. It also turned out that I couldn't even take the practice exams on my own. I wasn't sure what to do next. I thought about canceling the whole thing and asking for my money back and just ordering the book. I could scan it myself-not an entirely appealing option, but doable. But after consulting Mr. K, He said not to worry. He has crafted his own screen reading software and it is mostly mouse driven. He can work a lot of things that most blind people using the marketed screen reading softwares can't. He said he would set me up to listen to each lecture and move me to the next. He also offered to read me the exams and put my answers in for me. I thought it was a good idea and accepted-mistake number two.
I should know, from years of being in school, that if it is a process that cannot be powered by your own personal abilities, you don't do it. I guess I just thought that since Mr. K is blind as well, and only went blind four years ago, he would get it. I was wrong. Don't get me wrong, I love the man, but his insensitivity and lack of support of this whole situation has me spitting mad.
I can't say he's been completely useless, because he hasn't. He does set me up to listen to lectures, but it's his attitude. He gets snarky when I ask for help and then says I'm being cranky. When he reads the exams to me, he gets condescending when I don't know the answer. It's just not an environment conducive to learning. It frustrates me to no end that I can't do it on my own, which I know doesn't help the situation.I just want to study, take the exam and pass. How hard is it?
Besides all of my personal drama, my point is that, knowledge shouldn't be so hard to get a hold of. When did we start deciding who could have access to information and who couldn't? How is that our right?
The ancient Greek philosophers all lectured in open air markets where anyone could attend. Once education was institutionalised, knowledge became pricey and inaccessible. Even on the internet, where you are supposed to be able to get everything your heart desires, as a blind person, I can't. I can't use electronic flash cards; sites that are completely formatted in Flash are impossible to read; and learning materials are nearly impossible to get a hold of. There is a new law that is supposed to change all of this, but we'll see how accountible web owners will acutally be forced to be.
I guess I could have contacted the company as soon as I knew I couldn't access the material on my own, but my point is that I shouldn't have to. We're in 2011 here people! Accessibility issues shouldn't even be a concern anymore. Every building should be built with talking elevators and braille signage and wheelchair ramps that are at a usable/safe angle; ATM's should have braille screens (They have them in Japan! There is no excuse); and textbooks and study materials should be available in all formats so that everyone has access to knowledge. Books are in a digital format before they even hit the shelves in hard copy form-what is the big deal?!

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