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Lucy Greco

Accessibility in Education

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A Brief History of E-text: Part I

Lucia Greco, an Assistive Technology Specialist at UC Berkeley, San Francisco Bay Area, writes about the leaps in technology that has made the text accessible for persons with disabilities.
Technology has always been said to be a catalyst for change. From the Industrial Revolution to the touch-screen technology of an iPhone or Kindle, whenever a new technology is embraced, society has changed significantly. Some of the best examples are non-computing related: factories have replaced cottage industries such as weaving and meals are now mass-produced. Electronic texts have also had a major sociological impact, especially for individuals with disabilities.

Braille TextOne of the first technologies to impact individuals with disabilities was recordings. Recording technology allowed blind individuals independent access to books. The Library of Congress uses the ability to record audio as a way to provide books to blind readers. As the technology became better, the library increased its offerings to hundreds of thousands of titles. Federal government policy mandated that the Library of Congress establish a Braille and Talking Book national lending library.

Throughout the 1900s, various new technology platforms were adopted that improved access to written materials such as books and magazines. Throughout the rest of the 20th century, the technology allowed text to become more and more accessible. By the end of the 1990s, patrons of the Braille and Talking Book library were only a few months behind their peers in receiving copies of the latest additions of many titles. Around the same time, many international agencies formed a consortium to standardize methods to digitize all kinds of text. They are known today as the DAISY Consortium.

So how has this impacted people with reading disabilities? Throughout the previous century this technology meant that blind and persons with low vision had an expanding opportunity and access to information. In the early years of the 20th century, it was unusual for individuals who are blind or visually impaired to attend universities. An individual such as Helen Keller was seen as an unusual oddity, an outlier. People with disabilities did not go to school and if they did it wasn't to a university.  

Disabled individuals were more likely to be institutionalized, and therefore excluded from society. Up to the 1970s, many individuals with disabilities were completely left out of the educational system. In 1974, 4 million children with disabilities were found to be barred from education due to disabilities. As the US government began to form new policies about equal access to education for the disabled, the percentage of students in the educational systems went from approximately 2% in 1976 to over 11% today; the correlation between access and increased populations of disabled learners cannot be ignored.
Lucia Greco with her guide dog PecanLucy Greco is a blind advocate for accessible technology. She is the user of various assistive technologies since the early 1980s. She is passionate about the ways technology makes the world more accessible to everyone but especially individuals with disabilities.
Related Publication: Making Television Accessible (G3ict Publication)


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• LIA - Libri Italiani Accessibili (Italian Accessible Books)


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• BSI documentary points the way to accessibility in buildings and the Internet

• National Emergency Number Association (NENA) 2013 Conference & Expo, Charlotte, NC, USA

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