The research team was created to broaden our purpose beyond testing to the objective standards of WCAG and ad hoc remediation to include the subjective experiences of low vision and blind students at the CU Boulder campus. Through in-depth testing with native adaptive technology users, it became clear that meeting objective standards is only one important step in creating accessible technology. Each student arrives at CU with diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, a broad range of academic interests, and varying degrees of adaptive technology proficiency, and the research team was formed, in part, to understand how user experiences align with accessible technology.
The research team recently concluded ethnographic research that situates the realities of the blind experience at CU Boulder within the policies, practices, and attitudes of CU staff and faculty. Through participant observation, auto ethnography, in-depth semi-structured interviews, and informal interviews, we gained a holistic perspective of the blind experience across the technological, academic, and social environments. Results from the research are intended to inform university policy and practice around issues of accessibility. In addition, we have been accepted to present our findings at the American Anthropological Association annual meetings in November 2018, as well as the Accessing Higher Ground conference in November 2018. We have distributed an executive summary of our key findings to all research participants and key university administration; an academic journal article is currently being prepared for peer review.
The next phase of research for AUL builds on the first phase but pays particular attention to online learning at UC Denver, which is a commuter college with a different demographic than CU Boulder. The focus of this phase of research is to compare the experiences of blind students at CU Boulder and UC Denver, and because UC Denver is located on a tri-institutional nontraditional commuter campus, it promises to be a fruitful location to focus on online learning. Yet, online learning is not unique to UC Denver, so it is imperative to simultaneously conduct research among staff that play a role in the development and implementation of online courses at the CU systems level. Background research for this phase is in progress and data collection will take place throughout the fall 2018 semester.
The research team is led by Kevin Darcy, who is a PhD student in the department of anthropology, and has experience conducting ethnographic research in diverse settings. We are dedicated to the highest ethical standards, demonstrated by our approval from the CU Institutional Review Board (IRB). Amelia Dickerson and Anna Reid, co-investigators during the first phase of this research, continue to provide instrumental insights and critical comments. Drawing on their experience in Psychology and Social Work, combined with their ongoing work with AUL, Amelia and Anna remain an integral part of this research.