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Part 5: Perceptible Information, the fourth principle of Universal Design
by Antonia Levy, Christopher Leydon & Chris Kchao
This month we discuss the fourth principle of Universal Design (UD), Perceptible Information, meaning that “the design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.”
Guidelines for adherence to this principle include:
- Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) of presentation for essential information.
- Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.
- Maximize “legibility” of essential information.
- Differentiate elements in ways that can be described (i.e., make it easy to give instructions or directions).
- Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.
Practical examples for this principle are tactile features on numeric keypads for blind users, which usually include a dot on the 5 key, a tactile circle on the enter/confirm button and a tactile x on the cancel/clear button. Consumer devices such as thermostats or infrastructure such as pedestrian signals now employ a combination of tactile, visual, and audible cues to be accessible to all.
In education, this principle calls for providing essential information in a variety of modes (e.g., written, symbolic, tactile, verbal) thereby ensuring effective communication with all users regardless of their sensory abilities. This includes making all (online) instructional materials accessible to users of screen reading software as demonstrated in this video.
For an expert account of how screen readers, we turned to guest contributor Chris Kchao, who handles assistive technology in the Office of Student Disability Services here at CUNY SPS.
Screen readers, sometimes referred to by the general term screen access programs, allow blind or visually impaired users to gain access to written information on electronic devices. Text is typically either read aloud by a synthetic voice or output to a refreshable Braille display. The function of a screen reader is not simply to render any text available on screen, but to facilitate interaction between the person and the user interface. In practical terms, the screen reader doesn’t just voice the text, but also provides contextual information about the item being read (whether it’s a menu, button, checkbox, link, etc). For instance, here’s the output from the NVDA screen reader when a user presses the Windows start key:
Start menu, Search Box, edit: Search programs and files.
By way of these prompts, a user is informed not only of what the screen says, but also how to proceed. Among other things, we’re told that a menu is present, and that we’re focused on an edit field in which we may begin entering text.
When a screen reader encounters a document embedded on a website or posted in a Blackboard course site and the user opens it, that document also needs to be accessible to the screen reading software in order for a visually impaired person to access the content. PDF documents, for example, are only accessible when text contained in them is searchable. They should include other “hidden” features, called tags that are added for accessibility purposes only and have no visible effect on the PDF. Such tags include descriptive text for images (called Alt Text) or structure tags (called headings) added to titles, subtitles, etc.
Note that most PDFs created using a scanner are considered inaccessible because they are simply images of the page, which means that a screen reader cannot recognize any of the text. For various ways to make PDF documents accessible to all, see our quick guide or video tutorial with detailed instructions.
PDFs may also be created by conversion from another type of file, such as Word or PowerPoint. If you follow accessibility guidelines when creating those source documents, and then “save as” a PDF, the accessibility features such as headings or Alt Text for images will carry over into your PDF document. See our Accessibility Resources Site for additional tutorials explaining how to create accessible Word, Excel, and Powerpoint documents as well adding captions to your YouTube videos.
This article is part of an ongoing series introducing the concept of Universal Design (UD) as it applies to the context of higher education and to our work at CUNY SPS. Each installment covers one of the seven principles of UD with practical examples for both faculty and staff, including things you might not immediately associate with accessibility—or inaccessibility. Catch you next time!
Part 4: Simple & Intuitive, the third principle of Universal Design
by Antonia Levy, Christopher Leydon & Julie Maybee
Simple & Intuitive, the third principle of Universal Design (UD), refers to the use of any product being “easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.” Guidelines for this principle include:
- Eliminate unnecessary complexity;
- Be consistent with user expectations and intuition;
- Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills;
- Arrange information consistent with its importance; and
- Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.
General design examples for this principle include the moving sidewalks found in airport terminals and other public spaces, or the kind of lavatory faucets that make their operation readily apparent and relatively easy.
Remember instruction manuals that either use overtly technical terminology or visual instructions that are impossible to follow? Instructional materials would be readily accessible to more people if they take into account the principle of simple and intuitive design, for instance by combining plain language and drawings alongside the text. Avoiding unnecessary complexity and jargon applies to any instructions—including those created by university offices for use by staff, faculty, and students.
The design of our campus facilities should facilitate immediate understanding about the purpose and utilization of each design feature. Moreover, its means of use should be intuitively obvious so that it operates as anticipated by the user who can, therefore, use it spontaneously.
For a faculty perspective this month, we invited Julie E. Maybee, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Lehman College and Adjunct Associate Professor of Disability Studies here at CUNY SPS, who suggests a number of ways to apply this principle to the design of online and hybrid courses in Blackboard (Bb).
To make course navigation more simple, I aim to minimize the number of clicks required for students to figure out what work they need to do each week. I create a folder for each week in a content area on Bb called “Weekly Modules” or “Weekly Folders.” The folder description includes the date range for each week, as well as special due dates (such as for essays, or drafts of the final paper)—hence, the “Weekly Folders” section almost serves as a course calendar as well.
Each of the folders contains all the work the students have to do for that week. Moreover, in the interest of simplicity, each folder has the same structure:
- An item introduces the week’s topic and study questions or learning outcomes;
- A list of assignments students have to complete during that week—i.e., what to read, what work to submit, etc.;
- A list of the week’s readings; and
- Links, with assignment instructions, to the specific Bb tools students will use to submit their work, e.g. a link to the relevant discussion board (or blog) or to submit an assignment.
Each folder is thus a completely self-contained place where students can go to complete all their work for the week.
There are also a few ways to make the course design more simple and intuitive. For one, providing multiple access points to the same items can help your students to navigate the course site more easily. For example, aside from the links in the Weekly Folders, I provide shortcuts to the discussion board or blog on the course menu for faster access. In addition, I create a link to the “Help with Writing the Final Paper” folder both within the “Assignment Information” section (for students looking for information about the assignment) as well as the “HELP!” section of the course (for students who think in terms of needing help with the paper). In other words, whichever way they might think, students will find a link to the information they are looking for in either place.
Also, limiting the variety of tools you assign is an easy way to simplify the design of your course—for both the instructor and the students. Each feature in Blackboard works a little differently; e.g., replying to a discussion forum is different than commenting on a blog or editing a wiki, and using the assignment tool is different from taking a test. So, instead of trying to use them all, I give similar assignments from week to week, or at least in multiple weeks. For instance, in some of my courses, students do the exact same discussion assignment for weekly readings: students must post four posts to the discussion board, some of which must answer study questions I provide on each of the readings, and some of which must respond to my or other student’s posts.
Making your assignments repetitive also helps to convey your course expectations to students. When an assignment is the same every week, students will find it easier to learn what they are expected to do, and they also have multiple opportunities to learn (and respond to) your expectations for that kind of assignment. If you then grade the discussion every week—preferably by using rubrics, which Blackboard makes fairly easy to do—you will also be providing consistent feedback to students that helps them to understand what these expectations are.
Last but not least, assigning different levels of writing assignments helps to accommodate students with a wider range of literacy and language skills. Since I do not typically grade discussion posts for grammar and style, I use the discussion board as a place where students can write more informally. Short blog/paper assignments can be helpful as a scaffold for the final paper by giving students lower-stakes opportunities to practice skills they will need when completing the more significant assignment later. In my own discussion posts and in grading feedback, I encourage students to provide citations to back their claims, to interpret quotations in their own words, to offer scholarly evidence from the readings for their views, and so on.
These are just a few ideas about some of the ways our courses can be more simple and intuitive—and hence more accessible—for students.
This article is part of an ongoing series introducing the concept of Universal Design (UD) as it applies to the context of higher education and to our work at CUNY SPS. Each month we cover one of the seven principles of UD with practical examples for both faculty and staff, including things you might not immediately associate with accessibility—or inaccessibility. Catch you next month! Questions or feedback? Email Antonia Levy or Christopher Leydon.
Join us in welcoming the new Distinguished Lecturer and Academic Director of Data Analytics and Information Systems Arthur O’Connor. He sat down with us and shared his thoughts about new trends in data science and more.
What did you do before joining CUNY SPS?
I was a VP of Risk Measurement & Analytics in the NYC branch of a large Japanese bank.
What are you most looking forward to about working at CUNY SPS?
Helping to empower this great adjunct faculty to teach, and helping our students to learn and master some of the most exciting and high-demand disciplines, techniques and tools in data analytics and information technology.
Most exciting new trend in data science?
I’d have to say content processing/semantic analysis of unstructured data. We now have commercially viable knowledge discovery tools to derive insights from things like images, text messages, voice and video files—pretty wild!!!
What’s your favorite thing about living/working in New York City?
Central Park—its given me so much. I met my wife there on a Memorial Day weekend in the 80’s. I played with my 3 kids in its fields when they were young.
What are you reading right now?
I’m re-reading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson—this time in e-book form.
Best piece of advice you’ve received?
Sing like no one is listening; love like you’ve never been hurt; and dance like nobody’s watching.
What do you hope to accomplish before the fall semester begins?
Get to know the faculty and at least some of the students—they are a very impressive group!
Welcome to CUNY SPS, Arthur, we look forward to an exciting new semester together.
Professor Anthony Sterns is an entrepreneur in the healthcare field, and has been quite successful in bringing his product, iRxReminder, to fruition. He teaches courses in our MS in Business Management and Leadership degree program: BUS 620 Entrepreneurship in a Global Environment, BUS 680 Economics for Business Decisions, BUS 698 Applied Business Research, and has been a thesis mentor to both graduate and undergraduate students.
1. How did you come about teaching for CUNY SPS?
I have a good friend from high school and another friend from graduate school who both work at CUNY City Tech. I happened to see an advertisement on the Academy of Management Organizational Behavior List-serve for a business adjunct at CUNY SPS and because I knew something about CUNY, I applied.
2. Over your time as a thesis mentor to our graduate and undergraduate students, which thesis idea have you been most excited by so far?
I had one student complete a systematic review of 3-D printing and whether it met the criteria as a disruptive technology in the manufacturing space. That student was very good and completed a very strong paper.
3. What’s the most important piece of advice you can give to future entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurship is a long and lonely road. You have to have a strong passion for the vision of the future you see. You will need help to get there. Pick your friends and business relationships carefully, because your relationships will be challenged and it’s those relationships that will mean the difference between succeeding and failing to succeed.
4. What was your motivation behind developing iRxReminder?
My previous work focused on people living with dementia. Medication adherence is one of two reasons that people loose their independence, the other being wandering. I wanted to find a way to help older adults live independently longer. As we learned more about medication taking challenges we focused our attention on first helping clinical researchers and more recently improving adherence to oral cancer treatments and recovery from transplants.
5. What has it been like to watch iRxReminder grow from an idea to an award-winning start-up within the healthcare IT community?
Each milestone feels like a real victory, as every one is hard fought. The most important validation was the investment of our first angel this time last year. I started out in engineering. When I turned in my graduate education and research, I stopped making tangible things; things people use. I am most gratified when I know someone has an app and a device to help them complete a drug study, or take all the medications required to remain independent.
6. What’s next for you and iRxReminder?
We are planning on closing our current seed round this summer, bringing on an additional investor, and finishing our FDA 510(k) clearance, which will open up new markets to us this fall.
1. Favorite way to relax after a long day: Sailing.
2. What I’m reading right now: Managerial Economics.
3. The person I most admire: It’s a tie between Jacques Ives Cousteau and my parents, Drs. Harvey and Ronni Sterns.
4. Greatest piece of advice I have ever received: When they say, “It can’t be done, and you know how to do it, you are definitely onto something.”
5. If I wasn’t a professor/healthcare IT entrepreneur, I’d be: a touring musician.
6. Best part of teaching online at CUNY SPS: My boss, B. Loerinc Helft. She keeps the ship running. I also really like working with the students; their drive keeps me motivated in my own work.
Thank you, Professor Sterns. We’re very fortunate to work with people like Dr. Helft here at CUNY SPS.
Professor Stacey Murphy teaches in the CUNY SPS Health Information Management program and shares her thoughts on motivating students to learn and health care systems.
1. Who or what inspired you to join the health care field?
During my junior year of high school I had a job where my supervisor, a clerk, gave me the opportunity to code some records. At that time, everything was on paper so I learned completely from scratch.
2. How do you get your students excited about subject matters such as medical billing and coding in an online learning environment?
In the classroom, we share real life experiences with students and ask them to do the same. In our discussion boards, everyone participates and has unique questions. Students find ways to engage with one another in order to answer each other’s questions. I also always advise my students to not become frustrated with the work. Coding takes time; it’s not something that can be memorized.
3. Are there any attributes of other countries’ health care systems that you would like to see adopted by the U.S.?
The World Health Organization (WHO) developed the ICD-10 Coding System. Approximately 25 countries currently use the ICD-10 Coding System. Some use it for morbidity/mortality statistics and others for resource allocation and reimbursement purposes. Australia, Sweden and Netherlands began using it as early as the 1990’s. Canada, China and France began using it in 2000’s. Of record, the most recent country to adopt ICD-10 is Dubai in 2012. The U.S. was scheduled to adopt ICD-10 on October 1, 2011. The implementation date was delayed to 2013, 2014 and again to October 1, 2015. Physician medical associations nationwide have asked Congress for yet another delay, which will delay implementation to October 1, 2017. What is the future of ICD-10 in the U.S.? I guess we will just have to wait and see.
4. As a health care professional, which piece of technology do you think has most benefitted the field?
The online class platform. For me, as an adult learner and professor, I wasn’t initially sold on the benefits of online learning. However, I was faced with certain adversities in life so I went online and realized how much this platform has to offer. Of course, the person running the class makes all the difference in student learning outcomes.
5. What changes do you foresee occurring in the U.S. health care system within the next decade?
Electronic medical records across the board would be a great thing, especially for the consumer since it gives greater access to information.
Professor Murphy also shares some personal information.
1. Favorite spot vacation (so far): Las Vegas. It reminds me of NYC; another city that never sleeps.
2. Best song to listen to after a long day: Mary J. Blige.
3. Greatest piece of advice you have received: Don’t set high expectations for others. You’ll always be upset and disappointed if they don’t meet them.
4. What you’re reading right now: ITTIO PCS Resources (for my January prep class).
5. The person you most admire: Maryanne Rice, my mentor and the first person that inspired me to get involved in the HIM field.
6. If I wasn’t a professor, I would be a: Nurse, but I don’t like blood and needles. 7. Best part of living in NY: It’s the city that never sleeps! And, all of the employment opportunities.
7. First thing you would say to the Queen of England upon meeting her (Stacey aspires to meet the Queen one day): I would start crying first and then gain the courage to say, “It’s truly a pleasure to meet your acquaintance.”
Thanks, Professor Murphy! So many of the HIM faculty who we’ve spoken with have shared the importance of a strong mentor. I’m sure you are fast becoming a mentor to CUNY SPS students.
Dr. Eileene Shake is a professor in our new BA in Nursing online degree program. Dr. Shake shares her own experiences as a nurse and some advice for her current students.
1. How is your semester going so far? Any major surprises?
No major surprises. I enjoy teaching online. I was one of the early online education adopter at University of South Carolina and have been teaching online courses on the graduate and undergraduate levels for six years, so this is nothing new to me.
2. Can you identify one piece of technology (whether real or fictitious) or policy that would completely change the face of the nursing profession?
I would love to see a platform that engages and encourages more nursing research faculty and nursing PhD holders to teach online. Many nursing research faculty believe that nothing can replace the face-to-face classroom experience, so they’ll need a system that’s more user-friendly, interactive, and personable to entice them to teach online.
3. As with all nurses, I’m sure you encountered some interesting situations and people while in the field. What’s you “I cannot believe that just happened” story?
It seems like just yesterday, September 2011. I was a nurse educator at the University of South Carolina and the Director of the USC Center for Nursing Leadership. We had just submitted our application to the Campaign for Action to become the South Carolina One Voice One Plan Future of Nursing Action Coalition and were waiting to hear if we would be chosen. Representing the USC Center for Nursing Leadership, I would be one of the two Co-leaders for the Action Coalition if we were accepted.
I, like other nurse leaders, wanted to play a key role in implementing the transformative Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendations so that we could improve both access to health care services and the quality of health care being delivered. Fast-forward to October 2014, and I can’t believe what has happened! Three years have passed and I have worked in four roles that focus on various Campaigns for Action initiatives to implement the recommendations to lead change and advance health. During this time, I also continued to work as a nurse educator, presented at conferences, and developed and taught various nursing leadership courses.
I can’t believe what I learned over the past three years! Nurses are the most trusted professionals according to national polls and they are well prepared to serve in leadership roles to transform health care. However, there is still work left to do as nurses have not been seen as leaders who can serve on hospital, state, and federal boards. Therefore, I will continue to work on initiatives to implement the IOM Future of Nursing recommendations, and support current and future nurse leaders who aspire to run for these leadership appointments.
4. Do you ever miss wearing scrubs?
I never wore scrubs much, but I certainly miss being on the front line and having personal experiences with patients.
5. What’s the one piece of advice you’d like to give to nursing students?
I encourage my students to recognize the importance of their ideas and the impact that they have of the future of the health care system in this country. Many of them don’t realize the role that they play within the nursing community. I love helping students grow and reinforce that the profession is much more than just memorizing content. When they graduate from their programs, I want them to feel ready and comfortable with sharing their ideas, regardless of where they go or what they do.
Dr. Shake also shares some fun facts about her life.
1. Favorite article of fall clothing: A sweater.
2. Best song or artist to listen to after a long day: Enya.
3. What you’re reading right now: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.
4. Best BBQ – North or South Carolina: North Carolina.
5. Last time you laughed so hard you cried: Whenever I think about some of the things my grandchildren say. There are 7 of them, ages 5 to 20 years old.
6. First thing that comes to mind when you think of NYC: Plays. The theatre.
We look forward to learning more about the nursing profession through the wealth of experience and expertise you bring to CUNY SPS.