Disability Studies Quarterly Blog

Book and Media


Review by Rachel Levit Ades, Arizona State University, Email: rlevitad@asu.edu

Keywords: education; access

Improving Accessible Digital Practices in Higher Education: Challenges and New Practices for Inclusion is the result of a three-year, grant-funded collaboration between researchers from the UK, USA, Canada, Germany and Israel. Each chapter in this anthology is written by a different group of researchers who often speak cross-nationally. I speak in this review of “the authors,” because of the way the chapters are intended to fit together. 

This book is often technical, and is targeted at those who implement practices for the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in higher education. However, upon completion, the reader may desire to slip it under the door of their nearest college president. While at times heavily technical and academic, the book seeks to think expansively about how students in higher education who use assistive technology can achieve greater success. 

In the introduction, Jane Seale, who spearheads the book and much of the research cited, endorses the definition of accessibility from the IMS Global Learning Consortium of 2004 which states that “accessibility is determined by the flexibility of the education environment…and the availability of adequate alternative-but-equivalent content and activities” (3). The book is at its best when it explores the ways ICT may provide this much needed flexibility. So, for example, the discussion of models and frameworks is particularly helpful, because the authors index nine prevalent models based on their approaches to access (63-65). The book’s fourth chapter also offers a wide-range analysis of stakeholders who can help develop ICT-related practices. This broad view (including, for example, thoughts on the roles of peer mentors, employers, and academic publishers) provides practical guidance that readers who do work in higher education and in other accessibility services will find inspirational and useful. 

In their discussion of frameworks and models, the authors do make one important error that is seemingly theoretical, but will have implications for how this book and accessibility policy are presented. The authors, in passing, mistake a need for continued individualized accommodations as entailing at least a partial endorsement of the medical model of disability (47). As long as disability service or accessibility offices within higher education hold the mandate that they are there to provide respectful and complete access for students with disabilities, they can (and indeed, often profess to) endorse the social model of disability. The necessary individualization of accommodations doesn’t mean that the medical model of disability drives accommodations—rather, this speaks to the pragmatics of living in an imperfect world where we cannot, for practical and perhaps even logical reasons, make sweeping changes that then make sure everyone’s needs are addressed. 

This error is noteworthy mainly because the authors rightly focus on their book being useful. Though the authors engage in more abstract debates, they aim to remain centered on the experiences of students with disabilities in higher education. For example, they explore how students with disabilities use both mainstream/general use and adaptive/specialist ICTs, but ultimately use this information to make the point that students care more about support for the technologies they do use than who these ICTs are intended for (27-28; 106-108). While familiarizing the reader with the relevant legislation in the five countries considered, the book aims to fill in the gaps in legislation implementation and practicalities. While the book discusses current technologies and future predictions (28-31), the authors mainly focus on existing technologies as examples in order to explore models, frameworks, stakeholders, and policies. This ensures this book will remain relevant, even with technological change (and hopefully, improvement). 

The authors of this book clearly desire change, and provide useful conceptual tools that may indeed get us from where we are now to where we ought or want to be. In the conclusion, Searle speaks of this desire and labels it the wish for a “preferable future” (152-153). Since the book encourages thinking flexibly, I was left only wishing the authors had more time and space to continue to reach into new areas. The international perspective leant by engaging with the five countries was really interesting—one wishes for a second symposium that engages with a more diverse set of countries, including the global South. And, we should also consider the scope of who ICT in higher education can include. Though ICT practices now are certainly imperfect, we should continue to stretch and make higher education as accessible as possible, considering, for example, the ways that ICT may allow for greater participation in higher education from, for example, those with non-typical communication styles and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

This review was published as part of Disability Studies Quarterly, Spring/Summer 2022.

Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated.

Disability Studies Quarterly is published by The Ohio State University Libraries in partnership with the Society for Disability Studies.

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