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Reflections on Accessibility encounter - A series of posts related to a stream of work from 2016-17 in HE EdTech

8 min read

May 2016

Project initiated by Manuel my rather progressive boss

Project part 1.

In May 2016 my boss assigned me to an unusual project both for me as an EdTech and our Education Innovation Team in the HAS faculty. The nature of what I was asked to initially carry out was ordinary enough learning support with Kaltura, to enable a member of staff with Parkinsons disease to give feedback in the form of audio or video, as writing had become so difficult and painful at scale.

So I blithely booked a meeting with the academic in question and did some research into Parkinsons, the symptoms, progressions, patient forums on their experiences and how it impacted their work and home lives, to give some idea of what I should be thinking about in terms of support provision. I was completely innocent of the extent to which this would grow. In terms of workload, focus and determination to improve and refine the extent of awareness, provision, quality and culture of support within our own faculty and the wider institution.

So I should first mention my own encounters with accessibility support mechanisms, occupational health reviews and so on..

As an undergraduate the second time around I was finally diagnosed with a specific hearing impairment OAD or King Kopetsky's syndrome, dyslexia and Irlen syndrome, a visual and processing impairment, or difference as I prefer to think of it. Eventually towards the end of the final year, I was awarded a Disability access grant and attended an assessment of needs.

I was awarded some technology deemed appropriate to 'help' me with the challenges I faced in studying. Some of it was never received because the skills needed for direct support were not available despite the funds being in place. The laptop provided should've been a help, but the company providing it had set it up weirdly, filled it with company advertising and insufficient Ram to run both Vista and any other program. Plus the 'Training' provided was a laughable 15 mins when the machine was delivered, and never mentioned the issues I had to rectify, to make it at all usable! Plus the university wouldn't allow students and staff to connect Vista machines to the system at the time because it randomly re assigned IP's and caused no end of problems!

One of the more useful items was a little Olympus recorder that allowed me to record lectures and attempt to transcribe after the lecture. Of course I couldn't hear any better, but I shared with other students who filled in the gaps for me, not ideal. On my Post grad teacher training I was given a terrifyingly expensive hearing aid and wireless mic system, which really didn't work. Not least because it required lecturer cooperation and understanding of how to use, additionally it used to pick up interference from other rooms.

By far the most useful and an amazing improvement for me was the Irlen assessment prescription tint for my reading glasses. This costs me hundreds of pounds every time I need new glasses but is so worth it! Being able to read, comprehend and retain information finally, and for longer than 15-20 minutes at a time, wonderful. I recently found out my multi-colour lens layers are so dark they'd be deemed illegal for drivers here, however that's the point I don't 'see' the dark!

As an employee at UWE for the second time around I unfortunately suffered a spinal injury outside of work, ridiculously whilst wrapping christmas presents! So I have direct experience of the OH system in the institution and experienced some of the issues my new colleague was to reveal. However, I am fortunate in having a very supportive, practical and persuasive line manager, so now have an uppy-downy desk so I can stand to work and a perching stool.

All of these experiences obviously influenced my thinking and approaches on how to provide the most appropriate, supportive and accessible support I could for the academic in question. Looking back I can see how naturally, my appreciation of the concepts of accessibility, usability and the application of technology solutions was naive and narrow, even though I'd been on the receiving end. The past 8-9 months has been a dawning revelation on how in trying to help, institutional systems can actually increase the hurdles people face. Of course there are also occasions when it seems institutions and the cultures within parts of them resist the idea of improving access.

So on our first meeting I helped my colleague with familiarisation with Kaltura's desktop recorder and it's integration into Blackboard. This was straightforward enough and she was more than capable of acquiring the necessary skills. Unfortunately whilst she had been away for a period of recovery, her computer had been changed and for some unfathomable reason the most inaccessible tower/screen combo I've ever seen put in. With very little manual dexterity or strength/steadiness of grip there was no way she could set up microphones/headsets for video/audio work. I had difficulty as the USB ports were recessed in the bottom rear of the screen, which only cleared the tower it was sitting on by 3-4cms, the tower ports were all on the side away from her access and already dedicated to permanent set up with things like her old Cintiq touchpad.

Other things in the office arrangement made it obvious to me that there was a serious problem with her working set up, so I asked whether she'd had the OH assessment and report. Obviously making it clear she didn't have to tell me at all or reveal the contents, as this is sensitive personal data. However she was desperately keen to talk to someone about the fact that it had been almost a year since the assessment and report recommendations and nothing had come of it yet. I was appalled by this, she'd been put under enormous pressure, as a result adding to the deleterious effects of the Parkinsons, continuing to work in an unfit environment with a workstation set up exacerbating the condition. 

I'm a very junior learning technologist and not very good at internal politics, perhaps because I don't care about it. This situation made me incredibly indignant on her behalf. I feel sure there was no individual malice or intent in causing the delay or lack of support just a failure of institutional systems. For the individual on the receiving end of such neglect though this can feel awfully personal and targetted, at time when they are already feeling incredibly vulnerable and professionally exposed.

I promised that with her permission, I would attempt to drive things along by approaching my line manager for support. Find out who I needed to approach to get access to the necessary information to resolve at least the implementation of support recommended in the original 2015 report.

So already my simple job had grown into something with serious weight. My indignant little brain was buzzing with how can I make this work better and help her to work free from restrictions or limitations that don't need to be there. Parkinsons has not destroyed this persons mind, ability to learn, teach and share valuable experience with her students and colleagues. As all humans are, she is a person of value to the rest of us and deserves the support necessary to continue to work in a way that does not cause her harm and allows her to do so naturally and fluently with confidence and good health.

How often do we all take for granted the various aids to carrying out work, study, every day life tasks that we use, often daily? We are all on the spectrum of needing accessibility support in someway at some point in our lives. We have lights and speakers, wear glasses, contacts, have walking sticks, cars, escalators, lifts, kitchen aids in wondrous number and diversity and the biggest of all computers, including our dratted phones!

As I saw recently on a tweet

"Disability is a mismatch between a person and their environment.

Accessibility is the correction of this mismatch". Tweet  @SpecialEffect @AbleGamers charities


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Reflections on Accessibility encounter - A series of posts related to a stream of work from 2016-17 in HE EdTech by Ghizzi Dunlop is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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Family Pumpkin Carving 2016

1 min read

Half term holidays over ;( ... Had fun though family trip to gorgeous Westonbirt Arboretum and of course carving pumpkins!

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Early bird gets the worm - conversely - Being first out of the burrow isn't always a smart move! ;)

1 min read

A small GIF created while testing a new feature in Sketchbook Pro last year

The early bird catches the worm

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The Early Bird gets the Worm by Ghizzi Dunlop is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
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Finally starting to wiggle some room into my hectic schedule to start putting together my CMALT portfolio!
I knew I'd get to it I just need to wiggle some more to complete and submit it! ;)
Not sure how it'll compete with my new allotment though, Hmmm.


Nobel prize video - Just a few women's contributions. A tiny drop of all we do, have done and will do

1 min read


Women who changed the world.

Women who changed the world. Literary mastery, pioneering science, life-saving discoveries and actions for peace and human rights – achievements of women around the world awarded the Nobel Prize. Learn more about the impactful work of these Laureates at : Ulla Montan, Alexander Mahmoud, Music: Epidemic Sound.

Posted by Nobel Prize on Tuesday, 8 March 2016


Open and beer ? Open EdWeek 2016

5 min read

OpenEdWeek2016OpenBeerBlog from Ghizzi Dunlop on Vimeo.

Brew dog, a small self proclaimed ‘craft beer’ manufacturing company based in Scotland, made the news in the last week or two, when they ‘Openly’ published their full back catalogue of beer recipes. I'm not really a beer drinker, but yippee!

The two people who started up the brewery did so as hobbyists initially, before launching as an actual business. Their motivations for doing this from their release statements, taken at face value, seem straightforward enough. If you’re of a more cynical cast you might view it as a smart marketing strategy as they try to crowd source the next stage of their businesses expansion financing.

It’s really irrelevant to this discussion as it represents the ‘normalising’ of the Open concept in the wider public domain. Openess is percolating through the ether, it's catching. We need to watch that it's dispersal, doesn't lead to a subversion of original intentions and purposes, but allows a congruent, shared development of future aims and uses.

As a hobby country wine maker myself, I recognize the brewers enthusiasm for sharing the experiences, ideas and recipes, tried and tested, with others with the same interests. This is a long-standing tradition within the communities of wine and beer makers. As it is with many hobbies, crafts, arts and sciences.

 So is this open approach to sharing truly ‘disruptive’ as so often claimed?

Surely it is more that the closed, secretive, protectionist and possessive approach was the disruptor. Human survival and social interactions required open collaboration, sharing of information and working together, and it’s these behaviours that have allowed us to thrive and survive to the point we have so far.

 If we are to truly return to this way of cooperating and sharing by ‘disrupting’ the current status quo, there are a number of things we need to consider, not least, facilitating practical sharing, hosting and posting strategies and repositories that are accessible to all. As things stand we have a rather chaotic and confusing situation within the educational environment specifically. Approaches across the world vary and the pace of change politically, legally, institutionally and individually, is at best uneven.

 The US government is pushing through changes on the use of open resources in education, opening access to data. Large organisations such as NASA are releasing vast repositories of data from their research, missions and explorations. Indian, African, European, Latin American states and the near, middle and far east are adopting Open practices and OERs with enthusiasm and at scale. Whilst here in the UK, as ever, we are in constant discussions, with little movement from the perspective of those of us creating things we want to be able to share and those trying to find things to reuse. As has been highlighted in recent discussions in the ALT OER SIG.

There is no doubt in my mind that there is a really strong drive to push the Open agenda forward within education here. However, the loss of funded projects on OER recently, confusion over licensing (CC) and institutional contracts and OER practices, amongst many factors, seem to be pulling the rug out from under Opens progress.

So we need to develop some really creative and focused resolutions to these problems, thinking within the wider realities of peoples needs and daily lives. As more recent changes in employment practices in the sector and more generally, are likely to impact on level of availability and quality of OER resources created and generated. As pointed out in a recent discussion.

 But it seems to me that few in the open education movement are discussing how those who teach and produce educational resources will earn a reasonable living in the future. And this issue is coming into sharper focus as 'funded' OER projects become rarer. Can we really expect someone on a short-term poorly paid contract to create good resources in "their own time”?

Terry Loane ‘OER SIG conversation 03/03/2016

If we fail to consider and adapt how people will be able to make a living and support their families whilst openly sharing their hard work, we plan the failure of Open, just as we envision it. So let’s work together to prevent that failure and share all our beer!

Open Education Week 2016 Logo


Click to link to ALT OpenEd SIG

ALT OpenEd SIG Blog



Just in case you would like to try a Brewdog brew, here is the Open Recipe Archive link.


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Best Of @JISC #Digifest15 live streamed virtually attended @Ghizzi_d

2 min read

A great couple of days, even though I couldn't attend in person, I could follow the keynotes and a few other live streamed sessions, with few if any frustrations or failures. In fact only one session failed to stream live for me and no idea why, as it popped up as it ended, annoyingly. Mediasite blip or user error?

That being said the event app worked well, in fact so well it caused confusion, as a JISC member asked if I'd mind being interviewed post a keynote session, not realising I was only attending virtually.

The Simon Nelson keynote (Day 1 am) was a lightly delivered speech, with a touch of humour, frankly discussing FutureLearn and the OU relationship, current positions, achievements and future plans.

The keynote that made the event for me though, was Carole Anne Groble (Day2 am) On enabling reproducible research. Not just the pdfs and spreadsheets of a research project, but all of the components bundled into an accessible and shareable package, the software, the scripts, the code etc). It was a passionate, funny and very stimulating speech, full of revelatory information, ideas and strategies long overdue in scientific research practice. I had no idea several British institutions are already investing in teams of software engineers to support research staff, in adapting their practices and developing the tools they need to do this successfully. We live in a world of ever more 'open research', issues with public perception of science and scientists and competition for funding globally. Improved quality assurance, standards and reproducibility in research publication is essential. I expect to see a massive shift in practice in the next few years, as institutions and individuals begin to address this huge scientific research 'blindspot'.

Live streamed debate (Day 1 pm) 'Are alternative technologies fit for purpose?' between Donna Lanclos and Dave White, a very passionate, entertaining and occasionally thought provoking debate, attended by a pretty big crowd, that grew visibly as word got around via the event app..... Who says techies aren't expressive!​

At the moment I can't see any of the live streamed content as recordings on the site, but when I do I will post the links in the comments.​



Fab Hapgood blog post well worth a read
​Hapgood aka Mike Caulfield​'s online blog @Holden


It's world book day! ... what's your fall back will read over and over again book or books?