From the outset, eTeach has been recognized as a tool that addresses the needs of a variety of students by removing the traditional limitations of in-class lectures and allowing students to control the information. Lectures can be reordered, repeated, and processed at a pace dictated by the learner.
Unfortunately, the software was not originally designed with the needs of persons with hearing or visual disabilities in mind.
Overtime, the software was also adapted for the needs of persons with visual or hearing disabilities. Originally, eTeach did not meet the university's web accessibility guidelines, leading Mike Litzkow to seek an exemption for the technology. Although eTeach incorporated common web accessibility features, such as alt tags for images, it was not compatible with the screen readers used by the blind and persons with visual impairments.
Litzkow recalls an early meeting he had with Bradley Cadle, a visually impaired student, to test the programs compatibility with a common screen-reading program called JAWS:
"He [Bradley] started looking for the pause button and JAWS read off every label, every button. And there's fast-forward and play and this and that. And by the time he got to the pause button we were on the fourth slide. So I could see what the problem was." Recalls Litzkow. "And the revelation there was 'This thing has video, but a blind student is used to sitting in class and not seeing the professor.' And because the PowerPoint slides were still slides and not images, JAWS was able to read the slides, if you could get it to focus there."
The latest version of eTeach has been designed with these communities in mind, and incorporates features to make the software accessible to all. The video track contains support for closed captioning, which can be turned on and of at the touch of a button. This not only provides support for persons with hearing disabilities, but also for those students who simply learn better when presented with text in addition to audio.
For those learners who are blind or use screen reader technology, eTeach automatically generates a separate webpage without any of the video incorporating only the audio track and the slide text. Coupled with specific tags and alt text designed to be compatible with all screen readers, these sites provide full access to all, regardless of learning style.
"It's the most incredible tool that I've seen", says Alice Anderson, a coordinator with the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Technology Accessibility Program.