"Steve Yegge and Google+"

Accident or not, Steve Yegge’s Google+ Rant is public. On the surface it is about management, development and architecture of a customer/user platform. But this gem of a statement goes beyond that: (Emphasis mine)

I’m not really sure how Bezos came to this realization — the insight that he can’t build one product and have it be right for everyone. But it doesn’t matter, because he gets it. There’s actually a formal name for this phenomenon. It’s called Accessibility, and it’s the most important thing in the computing world.

The. Most. Important. Thing.

If you’re sorta thinking, “huh? You mean like, blind and deaf people Accessibility?” then you’re not alone, because I’ve come to understand that there are lots and LOTS of people just like you: people for whom this idea does not have the right Accessibility, so it hasn’t been able to get through to you yet. It’s not your fault for not understanding, any more than it would be your fault for being blind or deaf or motion-restricted or living with any other disability. When software — or idea-ware for that matter — fails to be accessible to anyone for any reason, it is the fault of the software or of the messaging of the idea. It is an Accessibility failure.

Like anything else big and important in life, Accessibility has an evil twin who, jilted by the unbalanced affection displayed by their parents in their youth, has grown into an equally powerful Arch-Nemesis (yes, there’s more than one nemesis to accessibility) named Security. And boy howdy are the two ever at odds.

But I’ll argue that Accessibility is actually more important than Security because dialing Accessibility to zero means you have no product at all, whereas dialing Security to zero can still get you a reasonably successful product such as the Playstation Network.

How does this relate to Education?

I’ll get the second idea, security, out of the way first, then look at the real point of this post. Filters are an Arch-Nemesis of Accessibility. It is critical to keep students safe, but the pendulum has swung too far on the side of safety and security. You want students to be safe? TEACH them to be safe! Spend time on it, value it. Allow students to learn from mistakes rather than force them to hide their mistakes from you because they were using social software behind your back and now they can’t talk to you about the trouble they are in.

Now on to the idea of Accessibility:

The. Most. Important. Thing.

How accessible are our schools for every student?

What do we do to make learning opportunities more accessible?

Are tools, resources and expertise to support struggling students easily accessible?

Something I’ve been dealing with recently: How do we make non-traditional choices such as online courses and independent study credits more accessible choices?

Is your LMS – Learning Management System accessible to students? Is it easily accessible to teachers? Are we providing enough support for teachers to be successfully using our LMS’s in a meaningful way, or are these management systems just an added layer of complexity?

Is the great tech tool you shared with teachers easily accessible? How big is the learning curve and who is there to support teachers on that curve?

Are multiple ways for students to demonstrate their learning accessible?

Do we make what we do, how we do it, and why we do it accessible information for parents and for our community?

Do the messages we convey about schools and education help make opportunities more accessible for our students? For our teachers?

One more noticeable thing about Steve’s rant is that it unintentionally says something about the importance of transparency. Steve could have made this about “Google sucks”, but his love for Google was not lost. He was unsatisfied with the status quo and he shared something valuable beyond just a rant. Whether it came out accidently or not, Google has reacted by being responsive to the criticism (or rather feedback).

Currently, I can not stand the “Education is Broken” mantra I’ve been hearing. It does not serve us. Education is transforming, not broken. We have some accessibility issues to work out. And, I’m beginning to see a lot of transparency in what educators do… a lot of open sharing that highlights areas of strength and areas that need improving.

I have yet to find an occupation with more dedicated, hard-working employees than in edcuation. Yet the underlying message educators get is ‘you aren’t doing a good enough job’. Really? I think ACCESSIBILITY just might be the biggest issue education faces. We are confronting accessibility failure. At the root of it we have teachers trying to hit a moving target of ‘what a student needs to know when they graduate’… A target that has moved more in the last 20 years than it has in the hundred-and-twenty before it… A target that isn’t even fully agreed upon…  A target that can’t be aimed at out of school structures that educators have been put into… A target that teacher training doesn’t fully prepare them to aim for… A target that keeps getting new things added to it, making the target harder to hit.

To paraphrase Steve: When idea-ware fails to be accessible to anyone for any reason, it is the fault of the messaging of the idea.

As we transform education, let’s not promote accessibility failure in our attempt to share new ideas, let’s make sure our messaging makes things more accessible!

10 comments on “Accessibility failure

  1. David,

    You ask some great questions about accessibility that schools all too often fail/forget to ask. Is are school accessible and easy to use for all? Is our technology accessible and easy to use for all? Is our LMS accessible and easy to use for all? All too often we opt for bells and whistles that have no functionality, or opt for functionality that doesn’t provide true accessibility. Great food for thought!
    Thanks for sharing,

  2. Tim,
    I LOVE this:
    “All too often we opt for bells and whistles that have no functionality, or opt for functionality that doesn’t provide true accessibility.”
    I might have to use that quote in a future post! 🙂

    Watch this video to demonstrate why even printed text is now an example of Accessibility Failure:

    (via George Couros)

  3. David,
    You are spot on in this post. I agree with you 100 percent about accessibility with one important caveat- accessibility paired with mentorship and education. If we open the road blocks, you still need someone competent and experienced showing students their way around.

    Which brings us to another dilemma- if we are blocking access to teacher or teachers are choosing not to “travel the digital” roads, then who will be there to lead our students towards their destinations and success?

    Great post, great conversation- hope it opens up this important dialogue. Thank you!

  4. Dave, you are right of course, but we live in a world with real constraints as well. Some of the constraints are good, some not so much. I would add Privacy to your Accessibility and Security attributes. British Columbia’s privacy law, as you know, is likely the most restrictive but simultaneously the most protective of BC citizens. In public sector (education) we have to comply and it’s difficult – the bar is high – but it is the law. So, accessibility can’t trump privacy in BC. You know me, I’m all about open and accessible technology and will continue to do all I can to make that possible within our context.

    But accessibility implies usability as well. We’ve talked about Sharepoint for example and how it’s not as usable as many of the free Internet web tools today. But, Sharepoint for us provides a place for teaching and learning to take place in online spaces that adhere to BC privacy requirements. We will continue our work to make Sharepoint a more usable place to make it more accessible to our students and teachers. We have many teachers doing amazing things in Sharepoint in support of their kids. We do need to open it up to spaces students have some control over… coming soon…

  5. Angela,
    The dilemma you mention is twofold:
    1. Blocking teachers & students.
    2. Providing teachers with enough training and know-how to effectively lead students on successful digital paths.

    I’ve always felt lucky to have you in our district. I think we have some of the most unrestricted access that any school district has and I know you have had significant influence in the decision for us to be so open… Thank you!
    I also like that you are working on a waiver form, to properly inform parents, if teachers want to use tools that do not comply with privacy laws without such notification. Again, thank you.

    That said, I think Sharepoint can still be a huge accessibility issue, and furthermore, although it has improved, it has a history (dare I say legacy) of inaccessibility with many teachers. I’m excited to see what’s to come and I’ve seen the great capability Sharepoint has in places like West Vancouver with Chris Kennedy & Gary Kern, but for right now in our district I still think Sharepoint is an example of accessibility failure. Teachers run into tool issues all the time, while other tools do not pose the same problems or roadblocks.
    You are right, we have so many teachers doing amazing things with Sharepoint, but at this point I’d say ‘despite the tool’ rather than ‘because of it’! This is a key issue at a time when a large number of teachers are still at the entry point of engaging with online tools and attempts to transform their teaching. Posterous, VoiceThread and Wikispaces are so much more accessible and, in my opinion, far more likely to help a teacher transform their practice than Sharepoint currently is.

    Thanks to both of you for the comments!

  6. Dave – I don’t disagree that Sharepoint’s in it’s current version here has accessibility issues. Inspite of the tool as you say, many have used it to advantage. Imagine when we get it upgraded to the newest version which has overcome many accessibility issues, how that will grow. Exciting times ahead!

  7. Oy, is this a timely post! This week I have to make major changes to my lesson plan because there are no connected classrooms available for my students’ Yodio presentations. Last year, no problem. This year huge problem. I’m also having to fight to get my freshmen English majors access to computers. Yes, these are college students. They have been forbidden to bring their laptops to school.

    I am feeling very “one-step forward, two steps back” right now. Security is the only issue where I am. And making sure students don’t stay up all night playing computer games. It can feel so completely defeating if one doesn’t make creative efforts to “work around” accessibility problems. So. I’ll be watching my students’ Yodios all by myself today. They made them, in spite of low band width and a discouraging administration. Watch my blog for a “Best of” post.

    The issue of accessibility is such a new one. You made a brilliant point about how many changes have been made in the last 20 years, compared with the previous 120, or even 1200. Humanity, not just education, is going through a huge transformation, from adolescence into adulthood. These are both the most heady and the most frustrating of times. If we can keep ourselves alive through it, we can look forward to a productive and prosperous maturity as a species. I’m betting that patience and kindness are the best instruments for getting us through these rough years.

  8. Brian,
    Exciting times ahead… indeed!

    The frustration you mention is one that I know so many educators have shared, and boy did I ever feel it living in China!

    I watched this recently: Kevin Kelly tells technology’s epic story
    …and I think the missing part is ‘patience and kindness’. Technology may be ‘an extension of life’ but it is NOT in parallel with life, unless we design it to be, and help it to be more human. I guess what I’m saying is that as we design new tools, part of accessibility design needs to be about making it easier to be patient, kind, and more compassionate.

  9. What a fascinating concept, that technology is moving through us, and is an extension of life itself. I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about moral leadership and sustainable development, and having a vision of a future where leadership is unquestionably moral and development is, as a matter of course, sustainable. Accessibility design, by it’s very definition, should have patience, kindness and compassion at its core. As we evolve as a species, I think our language will begin to reflect a new maturity, and we will expect these qualities as the standard, rather than having to push for them as something extra we should consider in the discourse.

  10. Hi David,

    Accessibility is an important question as you are trying to move to a personalized learning model. I have spent the last decade using the UDL model to help teachers understand who the learners are and how they should design their lessons and instruction as well as providing access to the curriculum using an LMS. Shortly, Barbara Bray and I will be putting out a publication on how to use this same model for learners to understand how they learn best in addition to how they would like to access information, express what they know, etc. Can you image a learning environment where the teacher and the learners are using the same lens? More later…

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