Near Live Blog from the Universal Learning Design 2011 Conference

Logo of Universal Learning Design conferenceI am attending the Universal Learning Design 2011 Conference this week, in Brno, Czech Republic, see: I will attempt a near live blog of the highlights of selected talks and my thoughts on them. Links to the details of each session from the conference programme and live webcasts are given. (I don’t know yet if the webcasts will be made available after the conference.)


Wed, 9 Feb 2011

[all times CET = GMT+1]

09:00 – 09:45

Welcome Addresses
Opening address (in Czech with simultaneous translation) from Jan Svatoň Vice-Rector for Student Welfare and Lifelong Learning of Masaryk University (the host university).  A public university striving to make education accessible to all.  15 years since took first organisational steps towards this.  Providing accessible courses requires commitment from all teaching staff.  Also provides accessible accommodation and meeting other needs.  Committed to continuing to develop this policy.
Making university education accessible is the responsibility of the whole academic world!
Thank you for sharing your experiences!
Second opening address from Zdeněk Škromach, President of the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic:
Recognises the leadership of Masaryk University in this field nationally and in Europe.
The creation of a favourable support network very important.  Attitudes in society need to be modified as well as access legislation.
Third opening address (!!!) by Jiří Nantl Director General of the Higher Education Section of the Ministry of Education.
The contribution to legislation, Making higher education is expensive, government support for these additional costs required, planned in Czech Republic for 2012 on.  But most of the job needs to be done by higher education institutions.
The fourth opening address (!!!!) by Václav Krása Chairman of the Czech National Disability Council:
Particularly providing support for people with visual and hearing impairments.  Support for disabled students at tertiary level has been lower than at school age education and this is a major barrier to equality in employment.
Fifth opening address (!!!!!) by Petr Peňáz Head of the Support Centre for Students with Special Needs of Masaryk University:
Quote from university senate minuets before the centre was founded: “Member of academic senate: Please tell me do the other universities establish such centres as well? – Rector: yes they do, at least one does” – represents the hesitant initial attitudes.
Welcome and thank yous!


09:50 – 10:20

Universal Design and Disabled Students: From Inclusion to Excellence

Prof. Alan Hurst (Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities, UK)

[Powerpoint on conference website]
Most difficulties encountered created by staff not realising the importance of teaching inclusively.
Want to move away from fighting fires to preventing fires; from reaction to pro-action.
We are all responsible for disabled students if we claim to work in an inclusive institutions.
Course and study programmes need to be barrier free.  We need to anticipate need – therefore less need for individual adjustments.
Universal design:
  1. Shifting from a medical (deficit) model to a social model
  2. Trying to encourage disabled students to live as independently as possible and enable choice
  3. Focus not on equality (treating everybody the same – we are not the same) but on equity (treating fairly).

E.g. Teachability Project in Scotland.

What are the core requirements every student must be able to do?  Then can define reasonable adjustments.

Curriculum requirements

In UK obsession with facilitation of attendance – but UK university doing best for disabled students requires little attendance – The Open University [thanks for the plug Alan!]

What about assessment?  How much scope for flexibility? What information do we give students and how early?  Difference between modified assessment (e.g. additional time) or alternative assessment (e.g assessment in sign language).  Who is responsible fr making assessment arrangements?  It must be a mainstream task to do this not the task of a disability unit.

What about quality?  The role of the professional bodies.  The danger of the “we have always done it that way” syndrome!

Information provision to disabled students before start university – accessibility of web based information systems.

Students participation in social life.  E.g. integrated accommodation.

What about carers guidance, access to higher level study?

The Law

  • Reasonable Adjustments
  • Anticipatory Duties

Good course delivery practice anticipating needs reduces need to reasonable adjustments – cost and time savings!

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) – Code of Practice Part 3 (Disabled Students)

(Examples given but not noted here)

“A law cannot guarantee what a culture will not give” (Mary Johnson 2003)

More important than the law is changing people attitudes.

Evidence of major progress:

When disability services are seen as value added provision  in universities rather than additional institutional expense


11:15 – 11:25

HEAG – A Survey on Accessibility and Universal Design provided by European Higher Education Institutions

Andrea Petz (Johannes Kepler University of Linz)
Klaus Miesenberger (Johannes Kepler University of Linz)

Results of research project HEAG
Institute Integriert Studieren, Linz University
Supporting disabled students since 1991
(In Austria people with dyslexia and learning disabilities not acknowledged in terms of funding)
HEAG – Installed 29 national agencies for gaining information
Supported by EU LLL and Jean Monet
Going abroad as  student an important part of student experience – important for disabled students too!
But a huge amount of reliable up-to-date information needed
What did
Core Issues:
Key Data
Available Institute Support
Access to built environment
Support for Teaching and Learning (including exam conditions)
Finance issues
Access to social life
What found
Tower of babel – even 3 different German versions because of variations in technical terms
Different definitions of disability
Difference in structure of HE
Services and funding totally different
Found formal generic data some with contact numbers but little more
Resultant project database available via website:
What is missing is the use of access for disabled students to the information.
See also Study Abroad Without Limits project (no co-operation to date)


13:30 – 14:00

Meaningful Means of Making Universities Accessible and Their Meaning(fulness) in Practice

Petr Peňáz (Teiresias Centre, Masaryk University)

Some Historical Background
Example of historic inclusion of disabled people – e.g. court jesters, painting of Velásquez …
Monumental institutions arose in industrial Europe in 19th century. Lead to development of tactile languages and sign languages.
Impairment was combined with war politics. E.g. Hotel des Invalids in Paris.
Still depending on historic reality and repeating considerations.
Dark side of monumental projects was the everyday reality inside was much worse than their external publicity.  E.g. First criticism of special education known to presenter – Rutebeuf, Les ordes de Paris (1260)
The modern situation
Generally throughout Europe acceptance in policy of information needs of the blind in 1980s and the recognition of sign languages in 1990s.
Different concepts of disabilities with respect to education in different countries.
Demonstration from different concepts uploaded to diffident language versions of Wikipediea [MC: Nice high level demonstration]
Many European countries skipped the technological stage of instructional design.
All encompassing concept of design for all or education all accepted but often with no factual basis
Problematic Stereo types:
  1. We know what special educational needs are? – Issue of individual needs – responses to the needs of different people can conflict. General approaches do not work!
  2. Education offered separately is a sin of our fathers! – Idealistic, ill conceived inclusion can be a step back. Let us not criminalise special separate education
  3. A person with disability is the only arbiter of accessibility – Democratic education principle of Europe.  Let us not delegate to student what should be the role of the professional
  4. The main guarantee of accessibility is that of an educational counsellor – counselling does not cover most part of the service – it directs to the services – network of service providers to be created c.f. networks of counsellors
  5. A personal educational assistant must be provided when counselling is not sufficient. – Let us make sure university’s do not provide personal assistants unless there is evidence for reasons

Meaningful investments in accessible tertiary education conditioned by professional services.  Setting the boundaries between universal design and reasonable adjustments.  Admit what are the tasks of the school and what of the student.  Accept that there are limits to accessibility. Sharing services between schools and creation of servicing networks.

Question from MC on balance between Student and Institution in defining their educational needs and how best met.  Answer – need an offering and then feedback but often teachers ask what should I do for you.  Students often tell stories about their own case but not really facilitate analysis of how needs best met.


16:05 – 16:35

Universal Accessibility of Documents: Workflows and Tools for Efficient Service Provision

Klaus Miesenberger (University of Linz)

16:45 – 17:00

ICT revolution -> Digital media enabling us to present documents in different ways – design for all documents. Conversion to alternative formats. With digital rights management – different business models.

That was the big promise – but! (Holistic approach needs more than just access to documents) Fear from existing service providers not founded.

We are struggling to make fully accessible documents.  Review of documents from publishers shows metadata and structure not there to extract text in a linear form (footnotes, bibliographies, etc.)  Colour used to order text.

Challenge is for new co-operations to efficiently integrate different resources into service provision systems.

Looking towards multi-channel publishing. – Guidelines and examples, in their tool. Conversion to Daisy.  Still no text order.  The publishing process is changing and this defeats the process – handed out to cheapest bidder – not aware of structured documents.

Need to take process into our hands.

Much effort goes into diagrams and the metadata.  Need an efficient work flow.  With Library community METAe project.  Structured content – XML wrappers around OCR documents

Workflow management tool – docWORKS[e]

Image processing supported

Export to existing standards

Working on conversion tools


To be outlined in Access to Documents Sessions but in summary:

End-user devices are changing – e.g. Kindle (lead to changes in publishing process to benefit accessibility)

New Assistive Devices

Publishing Sector is changing

Copyright question – Memorandum of understanding in Europe been signed but not yet in force at national level.

Teaching and Learning is changing – lots of use of electronic material, VLEs, social-networks (see EU4ALL)

New Services – crowd-sourcing, e.g.

No-linear content – maths, chemistry etc.  Further effort needed to come to proper solutions

Pen based interfaces – hand written notes – how to deal with?

Clients are charging – designed for different target groups

Easy to read

Captions and sub-titling – how to extend printed document to multimedia document with video using these?

Lip-reading – how to integrate

From Access to documents -> Total conversion

eAccess+ network – European stakeholder exchange.

A big challenge but no need to fear!

Need holistic approach!

Requires evolving management skills.

Questions: – metadata engine – tool from CCS, Hamburg Germany – metadata created automatically with 85-90% accuracy.


17:35 – 18:05

“Guidelined” and “Principled” Web Content Accessibility – What It Means in Practice of Universities

Ing. Svatoslav Ondra (Teiresias Centre, Masaryk University)

My blogging fingers are flagging but very interesting presentation about provision at Masaryk University which included the provision of specialist IT skills courses for disabled students – this is a big challenge for the Open University made harder by being a distance learning university.


Thur, 10 Feb 2011

[all times CET = GMT+1]

09:00 – 09:10

The Guide to Accessible Digital Content

Afra Pascual (University of Barcelona)
Mireia Ribera (University of Barcelona)
Miquel Térmens (University of Barcelona)
Llúcia Masip (University of Barcelona)
Toni Granollers (University of Barcelona)
José Luís Gonzàlez (University of Barcelona)
Marina Salse (University of Barcelona)
Jorge Franganillo (University of Barcelona)
Bruno Splendiani (University of Barcelona)

Basic Concept:
Accessibility in digital documents benefits everybody
Particular benefits for those with special needs
Poor practice found among teachers
Guide to accessible digital content -13 guidelines
Support to digital content editors
Simple step by step guidance
Chapter organised by document type and editing tools
Templates – with structural guidelines, model of semantic markup to facilitate tagging, use of macros to create alternative version
Doc->Basic Accessible Model->Adapted versions->selection by students
Currently in Testing Stage
Propose to integrate templates into Moodle, translate to different languages, and roll out
Solution for University of Barcelona
Guidelines (Spanish/Catalan) available online:


09:15 – 09:45

Access to Maths and Science for Print Impaired People

Dominique Archambault (University Pierre et Marie Curie)

Always been a problem for visually impaired people – assume blindness does not prevent understanding maths – e.g. some blind mathematicians – currently only the best.
Problem access to the content –
  • Linear nature of speech  and Braille
  • Additional use of graphics to visualise and explain the maths
Consequences  are dramatic – harder for blind children to learn – barriers to science
Example fractions in algebra: representation changes c.f. computer science changing a tree
Braille representation much longer
Different math codes per country developed according to culture of the countries
German formal, French good for simple maths, American built on others but very complex
Ambiguity in interpretation of spoken maths. (ref to US study but detail not given)
E.g. product 1st order algebraic terms – visualisation helps students process the product – same for simplification of fraction
20 years research of group:
reading, understanding,
doing (manipulating, calculating, solving)
Create Braille docs – converters – LeTeX/MathML to different Maths Braille, and visa versa for sighted teachers to read Perkins Braille created by students.  Some work on DAISY and similar features (later presentation)
Universal Maths Conversion Library
(International collaboration) – OS library in C
Based on Canonical MathML
LaTeX to MathML
Outputs to multiple Braille versions including British
Maths Player (Internet Explorer Plug-in)
Layout and some formulas to speech
Will convert to Braille (UMC) – within a few months
dots plus [View Plus]
Provides two-dimensional tactile representation
Paper presentation but can’t manipulate/modify
Anticipate hardware project with dynamic tactile display (e.g. tactile iPad)
Maths Genie [Karshmer]
Formula browser
Set of prototypes extend formula browser approach to Braille – supported by UMC
Research prototype
Lambda Project
Manipulating calculating and solving
Working prototypes
Accessible Maths Documents
Direct Braille limits possibilities
New Software allows conversion MathML to various formats
Use valid MathML representation
Different Solutions depending on situation
Document Design
Accessible format not enough
LaTeX orMathML bust be used appropriately – common practices break accessibility approaches
Need accessible guidles for document creation
Summer School:
Some tools exist
Little knowledge by teachers
Create Hands on workshosp
This year July 29-Aug 3 at Masaryk University


09:50 – 10:20

Accessibility Issues in a Digital Mathematical Library

Petr Sojka (Masaryk University)

Building something like Google Scholar for Maths that is for all but includes Accessible Maths
Mathematicians dream of all mathematical knowledge on a laptop hard drive (2003 project to NSF not funded)
EuDML project pilot recently started 2010:


10:25 – 10:35

odt2daisy: Preparing Accessible Documents at the DTBook Format with

Dominique Archambault (University Pierre et Marie Curie)
Jan Engelen (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven)

DAISY now widely used worldwide
DTBook is accessible book format part of DAISY and maintained by its standards
How produce accessible book?
Manual XML, DAISY authoring Software,  Authoring/Production Tools
Produced an extension to Open Office  (OS) [MC comment – it is horrible to use for editing large documents IMHO]
OO has introduced various accessibility features
->LibreOffice (totally free including of rights!)
odt2dtbook is an OO extension developed by University Pierre et Marie Curie then further by University of Leuven in Aiges Prject see:
Includes page numbering – reference original book
Supports maths and alternative content.


11:15 – 11:45

Specific Learning Disorders – Principles for an Equal Opportunity Learning Environment

Prof. Willy Aastrup (The Danish School of Education, Aarhus University)

A learning perspective approach – seeking to go beyond the perspective of accessibly towards usability which implies transformation from social model approach to … (a new model to be described)
This does not mean the social model approach is not relevant and accessibility is not important.
Counselling and Support Centre should focus on productivity and quality:
Supports 1400 students, 1100 with specific grants
Target students with specific educational difficulties including disabilities and dyslexia (not responsible for access to buildings, transport)
Local function, region function, research centre. – A part of academia not an administrative service. Part of Faculty of Arts which includes education.
Challenges for the universities (political drivers):
  • Higher productivity (more candidates (for same money!)
  • Quality focus (Bologna Process)
  • Inclusion
  • Diversity
Objectives for Education:
  • Good quality in own right
  • Qualifications
  • Employability
Bologna Process: Emphasis on employability.
How combined in Inclusive Higher Education?:
  1. No special curricular
  2. Obtaining the required competences
  3. Evaluation documented

Models of disability:

  1. Medical
  2. Social -> accessibility & usability (a quality issue)
  3. Possibilities approach (conf. UN) ->
  • Nature of impairment
  • Available resources
  • The individual

Student potential -> an option if they live up to the academic skills/

Disability Policy for AU:

Equal Educational Environment

Counselling and Educational Practice Centre:

  • Creates compensation options in relation to educational difficulties.
  • Evidence based

E.g. for students with dyslexia – social counselling: for academic practice, study support

“learn to learn!”

Assistive technology – laptop loans and scanning software and Dictaphone and synthetic speech/spelling programmes – The package!

Students instructed 1:1 on use of equipment concerning specific field of study 6-8 hours – so can use in a productive way the package

N.B. diversity of students with dyslexia

Individual assistance – 9-12 sessions per semester, also 1:1, the academic basis is what the student is studying, co-operative effort, student must be active, adapted to individual need.  Note taking, time management, aural presentation, etc.

Pycho-social “illness” in learning context

Aims again to facilitate process of identity formation

“Don’t have students with diagnosis”

If need therapy done elsewhere.

Aim to make there learning more effective specific to their context – so can self regulate their learning processes.

Holistic approach coordinated with teaching subjects focussed on the study issues not their “illness”

Aim is employability on open labour market and live independently

After 2 years study performance is average (grade points)

Drop out rate – better than average

Student progression slower although grade scores comparable with other students (studies sometimes delayed by treatment or study half-time to meet their needs)


About funding –

Test for dyslexia done by centre (accredited).  Those with psycho-social conditions need certificate from doctor but centre then evaluates further.

If pass qualifies for support.

Who pays – most comes from ministry of education (very bureaucratic).

Foreign students pay for the service but university pays for initial assessments – dealt with on a case by case basis depending on their source of funding.  Provide support within 5 days of arrival.  (Does not cover deaf-students)


13:30 – 14:00

The Hybrid Book – One Document for All

Petr Hladík (Masaryk University, Teiresias Centre)
Tomáš Gůra (Masaryk University, Teiresias Centre)

Started in 2002 as solution for blind and VI students for textual content – further developed.
Screen-readers etc. can give access to information but can make access to structure and navigation difficult.
Hybrid book to synchronise between two types of content -electronic text (HTML) plus audio recording of the text (human-voice)
Human voice has special advantages – e.g. language learning – other special content.
Complimented with navigation functions.
[Very similar to Open University’s DREAM / ReadOut – which now being phased out and being replaced by web (VLE) content or DAISY talking books as appropriate]
Navigation types:
  • sequential
  • block
  • outline (headings)


Hybrid-book3 – dealing with the needs of other users – especially hearing impaired

Now adding video recording with translation of text to sign language.  Using structures to enable synchronisation.  Can do this for any content that is readable sequentially. Audio and video records linked by XML descriptions in metadata. Web based App in PHP/Javascript, video recording played in Flash, audio compressed.  Simultaneous playback possible but not a priority – better for user to be able to switch between playback formats. Navigation structure simplified.

Demonstration of 1st prototype (still under development)

Further development – quality web based hybrid-book app, improving quality of multimedia output (still using human voice, human signers), Authoring tools only currently exist of synchronising audio so area for further development.

Question – why not DAISY – Answer:  video recording, synchronising other types of records and descriptive system different from DAISY – from outside the document, every record, data stream described separately so can add, at any stage, a new record.


Live-blog discontinued to attend EU4ALL Workshop the leave for the airport
For information on EU4ALL See:



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