MOOCs and disabilities

The Coursera blog today relates a remarkable story: “Not Impossible: The Story of Daniel, a 17 Year Old with Severe Autism & His 6 Completed Coursera Courses”.

He even had a moment of stardom. We took him to the ModPo final webcast at Penn, and at one point one of the TAs asked members of the audience to pick two words that encapsulated their ModPo experience. Dans were not impossible and under Al Filreis gentle urging he managed to say those words aloud to however many hundreds of people were watching around the world. Someone made a forum topic out if it and for 72 hours Not impossible was the top thread on the ModPo forum as people wrote in from all over saying that Dan had inspired them and that not impossible was going to be their new watchword. Can you imagine what it does for a person like Daniel to feel useful?

The story, written by Daniel’s father, goes through the accommodations that the parents devised to enable Daniel to be a full participant in the college-level humanities courses.

This story reinforces one of the key values of open education resources: accessibility. Being usable on multiple platforms, accessible to screen readers and other accessibility tools, is an essential part of planning online courses. For paleoanthropology, one of the most important aspects of accessibility is how we make use of images, since the materials are so often visual. During this month, I am spending enormous time working on the visual resources for my MOOC, ensuring that we are using images with a standardized format, with descriptive metadata, and with links to data sources.