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. The research recognizes the diversity of individual experiences at CU and locates those experiences within the broader political economic structures that shape university policy. The research also takes seriously how the attitudes and beliefs of faculty and staff directly shape local ecologies ofpolicy, practice, and experience. The priority is to bring attention to, and provide a platform for, low vision and blind students to describe the realities of their experiences.
Phase 1: 2017-2018
Phase 1 of the research was narrowly focused on the experiences of low vision and blind students at CU Boulder and concluded in summer 2018. 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. Results from this phase were presented 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 key university administration; an academic journal article is currently being prepared for peer review.
Phase 2: 2018-2019
The next phase of research for AUL built on the first phase but broadened the focus of inquiry to include online learning and broaden the scope to include the systems level. . The focus of this phase of research was to ascertain an holistic assessment of experiences of low vision and blind students at the University of Colorado. It likewise shed light on how university policies are implemented across diverse geographic and demographic settings. UC Colorado Springs (UCCS)is a geographically smaller campus with a smaller student population and a relatively high population of veterans; UC Denver is located on a tri-institutional nontraditional commuter campus. This approach helped us to glean how policies around accessibility and diversity are put into practice across diverse settings. Participation from low vision and blind students was much lower in phase 2 of the research. Staff from the systems level, and faculty and staff from UC Denver and UCCS were instrumental to this research and their generosity made phase 2 possible.
The research team
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.
The research was completed in February 2020 and a final report is forthcoming.