Today I attended a forum called "Finding Solutions: Assistive Technology in Education, Training & Employment for People with Disability or Learning Difficulties", organised by the National Disability Coordination Office Program and held at Charles Darwin University.

Accessibility is an area that I've long held an interest in and felt strongly about, so I was really glad to have the opportunity to attend this forum and learn more about what is being done in education, and what *can* be done - especially in libraries. It was a thought provoking day, with excellent speakers and discussion.

Tiga Bayles, chair of the National VET Equity Advisory Council (NVEAC), started the event off by telling us about the NVEAC Equity Blueprint, which has analysed the VET system with respect to equity and made recommendations regarding policy directions in areas that require reform to support learners with disabilities.

Greg O'Connor, from Spectronics Inclusive Learning Technologies, reminded us that assistive technologies provide not only access to knowledge, but also social connections. He spoke about how one-size-fits-all teaching styles disadvantage some students to create an achievement gap that gets bigger every year. Universal Design for Learning is a framework that supports multiple means of representation, expression and engagement - providing greater flexibility in content delivery and assessment for students with a variety of learning styles as well as learning difficulties. Greg also talked about the SETT (student -> environment -> task -> tools) framework, reminding us that we always need to think about the student first, not the technology.

Trevor Boyd, from Quantum Technology, described the DAISY file format, which provides accessibility in multiple ways - by providing audio, unformatted text, and summaries. Conversion programs like Dolphin EasyConverter now make it easy for anyone to transform digital documents (including the ePub format) into DAISY and other accessible formats, including navigation functionality (eg. table of contents, chapters). Trevor also spoke about the WYNN software tool, which transforms print media into audio. It also includes features that are helpful for people with learning disabilities, such as highlighting each word as it is read out. Trevor noted that easy conversion of print material to audio can also benefit mainstream users who are time poor, so that they can listen to mp3 files while doing other tasks.

Consultant Gerry Kennedy also talked about how assistive technologies (or inclusive technologies, as he called them) can benefit students with different learning styles, not just learners with disabilities. He described a number of useful free tools that are available, focusing in particular on AccessApps, a collection of about 50 free and open source software tools that can be downloaded onto and then run directly from a USB flash drive. This is a great idea for overcoming difficulties created by the inability to install software on every computer a student might find themselves using. There are neat tools for learning, productivity and accessibility (PC only). I'm planning to try a few of them out for training purposes.

Andrew Downie, from the NSW Curriculum and Learning Innovation Centre, gave an excellent presentation and demonstration on best practice in structuring documents for accessibility. He explained that when formal styles are used to create document structure in Microsoft Word, it makes the document much easier to read using a screen reader, and will also transfer across more successfully in conversion to accessible formats such as DAISY. Andrew also advocated for the use of meaningful alternate text (alt text) for images in all kinds of documents, not just web pages.

We were asked several times during the forum to take at least one thing away from the day and act on it in the next two weeks. I hope that in reading this post, and maybe clicking on some of the links for more information, you might also find some inspiration for trying something new and thinking about how to improve accessibility in your workplace :)