Visually impaired get media look-in

February 11, 2000

The advantages and pitfalls of video and multimedia for visually impaired students are being investigated by Edinburgh University's department of equity studies.

The department has already produced an advice pack, following a survey of visually impaired students.

It is becoming cheaper and easier for lecturers to back their teaching with video and multimedia, but moving images can pose difficulties for students with visual impairments.

The advice pack outlines the different types of problems students could face, including sensitivity to glare and contrast, a narrow field of vision and difficulty in changing focus.

A range of options for modifying existing video material is suggested, such as audio and text subtitling, still shots and adding index marking so that students can find a particular place on a tape.

Researchers Marianna Buultjens and Phil Odor, working with Heather Mason, formerly of Birmingham University's school of education, are investigating case studies in Edinburgh and Birmingham, with funding from the Nuffield Foundation.

The research includes monitoring information on accommodation for students, prepared by Edinburgh's media and learning technologies service (Malts), to be used on both the web and CD-Rom.

Mr Odor said: "The team will document how the development cycle can be made to incorporate the quality assurance procedures for access, how novel techniques can add supplementary materials where necessary and how much the exercise will cost."

The team has also been working with Malts on multimedia access in a new lecture theatre. Ms Buultjens said that the main console used by the lecturer could be linked to a moveable trolley that holds the visually impaired student's personal monitor.

"This would enable the student to be close enough to a screen to see clearly. They could change the contrast to suit themselves and alter the size of any printed material. It means that they have control of material that other students access without a thought."

Ms Buultjens said that adapting existing material to make it more accessible, or designing new material, was likely to be costly in terms of staff time and resources. But she predicted that advances in information technology would make such progress increasingly cost-effective.

"Technology is always developing and moving one stage ahead," she added.

Following the latest study, the team will revise its advice pack to include potential techniques. It will also examine the costs in terms of staff time and other resources.

Video for Visually Impaired Learners can be found at http://www.ssc.mhie.ac.uk

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