The ubiquity of digital media and telecommunications leads to claims that “the world is flat” and that everybody has access to almost all services and information. Tom Friedman rather ominously says that this ubiquity of access Alan Light's all-access passestablishes an “iron rule”: “whatever can be done, will be done. And if you are not doing it, it will be done to you.”

Is this actually the case? Is everyone subject to this iron rule? Does everyone have an all-access pass? Pankaj Ghemawat’s answer is a flat-out “no.”

Further questions arise when we think about the expanding physical and online programs of higher education. How does the iron rule transpose to that context?

Perhaps the educational version takes a much less ominous tone. Here is my attempted version of the iron rule for a flattened higher-ed world: “whatever can be learned, will be learned. And if you are not learning it, it will be, for lack of a better term, ‘learned’ to you.” (N.B. I am skeptical, if not resistant, to the notion that any version of Friedman’s iron rule ought to be applied to the context of education.)

In other words, in the era of high-speed internet, are people learning whether they like it or not? Let’s consider the question with regard to higher education. We may limit this to everyone within the United States and certainly find it to not be the case.

Image of graffiti stating "that will learn them" from Sheila Blige

With regard to several groups within the United States, there is no all-access pass to higher education. Instead, there are several barriers to accessibility. The number of current prosecutions of education institutions under the Americans with Disabilities Act signals that the iron rule, even in my quite friendly form, is not taking hold.

One important step toward all-access education at UA is the College of Arts and Sciences’s accessibility website. It can serve as a one-stop place for teachers to find accessibility resources and guidelines for the UA campus.

Practically speaking, everyone teaching at UA can take steps toward granting more access. A lot of these involve digital media, but the most important ones involve adopting an all-access mindset.

  • Simply start considering accessibility in a thoughtful, sensible and sensitive manner.
  • Get to know the people who provide resources for accessibility on campus (technology, services). Visit their offices and check out their workshops!
  • Take an incremental approach to developing your accessible teaching skills. Rather than reinventing the wheels of your past teaching, simply adopt these practices for your future teaching. For example,
    • Use the “accessibility check” on Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat, and apply the solutions to your files.
    • Deploy the OIRA syllabus site to create and post your syllabi online.
    • Start putting course content inside your Blackboard Learn. It is easy to copy and paste text from previous course materials into a “blank page” in your course’s Blackboard Learn to make that content instantly accessible.
    • Re-save your old scanned PDFs through the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) function on Adobe Acrobat.
    • Resolve any of your concerns or thoughts about accessibility by calling up or visiting the friendly folks at the Office of Disability Services or eTech. Dr. Rachel Thompson invites faculty, staff and students to contact her directly, too!

Nathan Loewen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies and Faculty Technology Liaison for the College of Arts & Sciences.
Photo by Sheila Blige / Flickr Creative Commons

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