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How Verbit is Making an Impact on Global Accessibility Awareness Day

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This Thursday, May 16th, is the eighth Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD).

Marked annually on the third Thursday of May, the goal of GAAD is to raise awareness of technology accessibility by starting the conversation, and getting people to think and learn about digital inclusivity and how it is impacted by disability.

 

Verbit & GAAD

At Verbit, we go beyond simply providing an AI-powered transcription and captioning solution. We are accessibility partners, and our technology plays a key role in enhancing each student’s individual learning journey.

Our mission is to bridge the accessibility gap with AI-enhanced transcription and captioning so that all students can engage with academic content and maximize their potential.

Because of this commitment, we are excited to announce that we are working to establish the framework for a disability scholarship. We believe that all students, regardless of ability or disability, have the right to not only have access to content but thrive in their academic environments. We’re undertaking this initiative to change the world of higher education for the better, and give deserving students the chance to achieve their academic goals. By working together to promote greater awareness and leveraging advanced technology to create a solution, we have the power to change peoples’ lives and open new doors through greater accessibility.

 

Disability in context

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 56 million people in the United States alone are living with some kind of disability. This has a profound impact on virtually every aspect of a person’s life, including communication, work, school, and more.

The effect is especially significant in today’s increasingly digital world. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, disabled Americans are about three times as likely as those without a disability to say they never go online.

Think about how people retrieve information these days. The internet contains the answer to virtually every question that can be thought of. Therefore, a lack of digital accessibility represents a significant barrier for people with disabilities and negatively impacts quality of life.

 

The situation in higher education

Digital audio and video files are proliferating at a torrid pace. This is most apparent in the world of higher education, where recorded lectures and online learning have become the norm. For students who are deaf or hard of hearing, this new paradigm presents significant challenges in terms of accessibility.

With around 20,000 deaf and hard of hearing students attending post-secondary educational institutions each year, it’s estimated that there are close to 500,000 deaf and hard of hearing college students in the United States. Unfortunately, the graduation rate of these students remains significantly lower compared to the general population, with 25% completing their degrees, in contrast to 56% (Lang 2002, Aud et al. 2011).  

It’s clear that audio and video files must be converted to text so that all students, regardless of their disability, can engage with the content. That’s where transcription and captioning comes into play.

 

How AI technology enables greater accessibility

Innovation for disability is innovation for everyone. When technology is developed to address the most complex of needs, it ends up benefiting the population at large.

In fact, many of the technologies that were initially developed for people with disabilities have gone on to become widely used by the general population. Designing with accessibility in mind means creating a product that is more intuitive, feature-rich and, ultimately, able to reach and impact more people.

AI enhances assistive technology by providing more sophisticated capabilities. When it comes to transcription and captioning, adaptive machine learning algorithms allow the technology to become smarter over time and pick up on commonly used terms, recognize various accents and vocabulary, and differentiate between speakers for the highest accuracy.

 

Going one step further, real-time captioning represents a leap towards greater accessibility and success for all in the higher education setting, particularly those who are deaf and hard of hearing. Providing full access to all course content and communication that takes place in the classroom allows students to participate in real-time and be fully engaged in a way that was previously not possible.  

Aside from those with a hearing impairment, real-time captioning also benefits individuals who understand written language better than spoken. Individuals with autism, dyslexia, as well as those who are not native speakers of the language of instruction all gain from having access to a text-based version of classroom lectures.

 

For more information on how we can help you, feel free to contact us at accessibility@verbit.ai

 

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How Accessibility is Driving The Top EdTech Trends

Technology is evolving faster than most of us can keep up. It’s hard to believe that the iPad made its debut a mere nine years ago. 15 years ago, who could fathom that we could keep a computer in our back pockets? Yet a few years later, the first iPhone made its debut and that is exactly what we do.

Keeping with this trend, educational technology is also progressing at a rapid pace. Even though the first online courses were launched in the 90s, the technology required to make the experience equivalent to an in-person learning experience has only blossomed in the past ten years.

One of the most exciting parts of the educational technology boom is that it provides access to all learners, including those with disabilities. Looking at 5 edtech trends for 2019, we can see how accessibility is fueling the technology development and benefiting everyone in the process.

Interactive Whiteboards

The SMARTboard has the distinction of being the first interactive whiteboard (IWB) introduced to the education scene back in 1991. In 1992, Intel invested in the company, propelling them to become a well-known brand name. Unfortunately, they were very expensive, making it a prohibitive cost for most school budgets. As the years progressed, more companies jumped on board, providing consumers with more options at competitive prices. However, only about half of US classrooms are using IWBs as of 2018 due to high costs, as per the National Science Foundation. Today, many schools are adding or switching over to interactive displays, which retain many of the same functions as a SMARTboard, for a fraction of the cost of an IWB.

IWBs benefit many different learning styles by appealing to auditory, visual and tactile senses. They are helping to make learning more accessible and enjoyable by enhancing education for individuals with hearing impairments or learning disabilities. IWBs have also become a great learning tool for students who are blind or visually impaired. Through integrations with other assistive technologies, the text on the screen can be read aloud and instructors can connect Braille displays with compatible software.

IWBs also provide students with physical impairments with different ways to interact with educational content. For example, adjustable heights help accommodate students who are wheelchair-bound. Students who are incapable of holding a pen or stylus can use their fingers, while instructors can use the hand over hand technique to guide them. IWBs also benefit students with learning disabilities. Their interactive and engaging capabilities can increase attention, which in turn boosts learning retention.

Artificial Intelligence

In 2018, Microsoft announced a grant program to increase the development of AI-driven accessibility technology in 3 key focus areas: employment, daily life, and human connection/communication.

An exciting area of AI development for accessibility is in Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technology. In the higher education context, many colleges and universities are experiencing a backlog of AI transcription and captioning services, as the demand and necessity are higher than the capability for humans to get it done in a timely manner. Enter AI. For example, at BYU Idaho, Verbit’s AI-enhanced ASR technology cut their media captioning backlog, reducing wait time from weeks or months to days, often delivering in under 24 hours. The technology made YouTube clips, TEDtalks, movies, lectures, and other audiovisual content accessible to their deaf and hard of hearing students.

Augmented/Virtual Reality

Augmented reality (AR) has been around for decades but really began to surge in the last five years. Major developments in the market like Google Glass, the onslaught of 3D and 4D movies, and games like the worldwide phenomenon Pokemon GO have made AR part of daily life. Once again, accessibility is enhancing the development of cutting-edge AR/VR technology.

AR can now be used to help individuals with disabilities explore new areas or places. For example, an individual with a visual impairment may not be able to read the small lettering of signs on campus. With an application that uses a phone camera, signs can be expanded for easier readability. Many AR applications are also adding auditory and haptic feedback to accommodate those with visual impairments. Smart glasses now provide a feature to display captions in the field of vision for people with hearing impairments, so they can get the most out of events like concerts and theater performances.

AR is influencing the world of education by enhancing academic topics like the sciences and humanities. Areas like STEM medicine are being made increasingly accessible through AR, providing more disabled students with the opportunity to study these subjects.

AR technologies enhance the learning process for all students, not just those with disabilities. However, for those who do have a disability, it’s a game-changer. Ruth Richards-Hill says it best in her blog post on AR. “Big tech and the trimmings that come with it have “imagineered” my existence into one of relative normalcy so much so that few notice that I am any different.”

Learning Analytics

Consumer analytics have been around for a few years. How many times have you seen an ad pop up on your Facebook feed for the very product you searched for on Google just minutes earlier? A similar trend is occurring in higher education. The 2016 Horizon Report describes learning analytics as “an educational application of web analytics aimed at learner profiling, a process of gathering and analyzing details of individual student interactions in online learning activities.” These tools allow teachers to monitor their students’ digital activity, understand how they are learning, and tailor learning experiences to match.

Learning analytics powers the prediction of student behavior, curriculum design, and learning interventions. Although it is a relatively new concept, expect to see increases throughout 2019. Analytics can even reveal a learning deficit that a student wasn’t aware of, and help educators devise an individualized learning plan to help the student succeed. This will not only help map out strategies for learners with various disabilities but will improve overall student success and retention rates.

Adaptive Learning

When all these trends come together, they result in adaptive learning, providing the ability to creating more personalized learning experiences and guide students through the curriculum. This type of approach would be almost impossible for a teacher to implement in a traditional classroom, but with educational technology, the somewhat impossible becomes a reality.

With adaptive technology, teachers can more effectively adapt coursework for all students. Educators can track how each student is progressing, and effectively monitor and analyze the information collected. The benefits extend to the students themselves as well. According to Educause, adaptive learning provides students with greater control over their learning, higher engagement, better information retention, more confidence, and higher graduation rates. Adaptive learning levels the playing field for all students, which makes for an overall better learning environment for everyone.

With seemingly endless possibilities, it’s clear that exciting times lie ahead in the field of higher education for both instructors and learners alike. As technology develops further and understanding of different learning styles and strategies grows, the gap between the abled and disabled learner will shrink, eventually disappearing altogether.

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