More Blurring: AT, ET, Smart T and Mobile T

Last Thursday brought a trip to UWE for an assistive technology get together with colleagues from other HEs in England. As, often sole practitioners, its valuable to meet, talk and ruminate on where things are heading.

Polling folk beforehand we chose to focus on mobile devices which gave a perfect excuse to bring slates, phones and toys. A couple of helpful colleagues documented the day with tweets to #atinhe.

The things that stick in my mind are:

  • Predictions that web access through smartphones will exceed web access from mobiles in 2 years time.
  • Reading habits are changing – people are reading from the screen (….I wonder if “I need to print things out” is analogous to now outdated thinking such as:  “I need to hand-write it, then I type it up)
  • Students are leading in terms of technology – we need to follow them
  • It used to be that people used work devices at home, now the opposite, they use (often better) home devices for work purposes
  • Mobile devices are personal accessories – touch screen, keyboard, colour, features, cost are all important.

We had a good chat about the accessibility of ebook platforms (yes you can go to Publisher Lookup to get an accessible version, but how does that help live browsing?).  I was intrigued to hear that OU are looking at providing course materials as epub books.  (and yes we look forward to the convergence of epub and Daisy…but I gather that table handling is still a bit naff).

I loved the fact that Evernote cunningly OCRs your pictures rendering them searchable, and that Artur Ortega (who is blind) is a fan of Dropbox,  What’s especially fab about Artur is that he doesn’t have a clunky/specialised  (read expensive) “assistive technology” product, but instead has a normal mobile device which has an integral screen reader.   Is the phone assisstive technology? is it “enabling technology’, or is it dead-useful-mainstream-technology that happens to be accessible?

The ubiquitous nature of mobile devices can level the playing field.  I may choose to take a photo of a page of a book in a library for a variety of reasons

  • I am too lazy to handwrite it (.. and I can’t read my writing anyway)
  • I’ve forgotten to bring a pen
  • I am too tight to pay 10p to photocopy it
  • I know that if I write it down on a scrap of paper I will lose the paper
  • I have confidence that if I take a photo via Evernote/Powernote etc that I can get it on my PC/work PC later.

If, instead, I am dyslexic, I may like to take a photo so I can OCR it and listen to it, maybe even on the hoof  like Artur.  My Smart Technology is another woman’s enabling technology, but no one has to put up their hands and label themselves with any D words (disabled, dyslexic or in my case disorganised).

A very enjoyable day leaving me with lots of questions: How do we learn from our students?  What should we do on locked down networks?  Should we continue to spend money on feature rich “Assistive Technology” products or embrace the cloud?

Sadly not much time to think through all this. The next day saw me sipping coffee in Bristol, reading a few PDFs on my birthday ebook reader and popping notes onto my mobile phone for our next lovely assignment.

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