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Odds against you? Need help? Call the Equaliser

Allison Loftfield is online information and communications manager at Jisc TechDis

If you are old enough to remember the late 1980s, chances are you will recall the Equalizer, an American television show starring the British actor Edward Woodward. He placed an advertisement in the paper inviting people to ring him if they needed help.

When it comes to supporting adult learners with disabilities, technology is the equaliser. At Jisc TechDis, in support of Adult Learners Week (14 to the 20 of June) we want to show you how technology can play a crucial role in helping people with diverse needs to live, learn and work more independently.

Adult Learners’ Week is a celebration of lifelong learning so we are challenging people in FE to embrace technology and learn something new. Inclusive practice is good practice and an effective use of technology can produce major benefits for all learners, not just those with disabilities. Challenge accepted?

For inspiration, take a look at the Jisc Ambassador blog where you will find stories from disabled staff and learners explaining what technology they use, how they use it and how it helps them. Delivered in a variety of formats (video/audio/written), these short personal stories celebrate and share the use of technology to overcome barriers and challenges.

For advice and guidance on technologies for inclusion, have a look in the Toolbox. This is a collection of resources that can help individuals work quicker, slicker and smarter. It is written primarily for those with disabilities or difficulties to help them gain or improve on the skills most valued by employers.

The Toolbox contains bite-size videos, short guides, animations and brief audio files that can be easily understood and absorbed. They provide an overview of accessibility features in applications such as Microsoft Office and Google. The Toolbox also suggests different tools for different needs, for instance, those with a visual impairment may find screen magnifiers or text-to-speech tools useful. Individuals with dyslexia or memory problems are advised to use task lists, calendars and reminders.

Then there is TechDis Jess and Jack, two free, high-quality, youthful and modern voices that can be used with text-to-speech tools. Text-to-speech (TTS) technology allows text in electronic formats to be read out loud by synthetic voices or saved as MP3 files for later listening. Just about everyone can benefit in some way and it is especially useful for people with dyslexia or visual impairments. It can also be very helpful for anyone whose first language is not English.

On the 18 and 19 of June, there is an opportunity to learn how information and communication technologies (ICT) are used to support lifelong learning by disabled adults and older people in over 14 different countries around the globe.

This is the 2nd international conference organised by the Enable Network for ICT Learning for Disabled People and you can register to attend virtually. There is an exciting international programme with 23 different presentations and papers from across the world including sessions such as:

• Teaching Deaf and hearing impaired students in South Africa

• Barriers to inclusion: ICT use by Serbian adults with disabilities

• Augmentative and alternative communication technology therapy for disabled children in Poland

• Positive risk taking in e-safety practices in England

So this Adult Learners’ Week, remember The Equalizer’s words and if you feel the odds are against your disabled students and you need help to make your college accessible then call upon the powers of technology, a real life hero.

Allison Loftfield is online information and communications manager at Jisc TechDis

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