A little over thirty years ago, my life—and the lives of tens of millions of Americans—was changed in immeasurable ways by the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Coming of age in a world where ADA was the law, I was free to imagine and pursue opportunities that were previously impossible for people with disabilities, including visually impaired people like me.
With my heart set on a career in marketing, imagining my future was thrilling. Accessing the learning materials I needed to achieve my dream...well, that part was much more difficult. It wasn’t until eBooks were widely available that I felt I was on somewhat equal footing with my peers.
I have low vision caused by albinism, a rare genetic condition that impacts about one in 20,000 people. In order to read comfortably, I need very large fonts and the ability to control contrast and lighting. Without these, it's difficult for me to read. In 2010, when I was finally able to access all of my course materials as eBooks, I gained not only access to my materials on day one (previously, I had to wait sometimes weeks for large print materials to be prepared) but also dignity and independence in the pursuit of my education.
Back in 2017, I wrote a blog in which I shared how accessible technology changed the trajectory of my education, and ultimately, my entire life. I wrote, “I often tell people that eBooks changed my life. It seems hyperbolic, I know, but it’s true for me, and many thousands of other people with low vision. eBooks offered me the freedom to read what I want, when I want. Most importantly, eBooks offered me the ability to learn on my terms, with ease and without embarrassment. When I started my MBA in 2010, I was thrilled to find that I could buy 100% of my textbooks in digital format through VitalSource. I read when and where I wanted, scaling to larger font or using Text to Speech with ease.”
Since then, innovations in online accessibility have only accelerated, and I have benefited. Not only was I able to complete my MBA, but I recently completed a certificate in Leading with Data and Analytics through The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, all with the help of accessible eTexts and other accessible technology.
While I've benefited as a learner from VitalSource's commitment to accessibility, we can all agree there is more work to do. Taking my VitalSource hat off, and putting my learner hat on, I encourage everyone in our education community to make sure all students have the tools and support they need to succeed, regardless of ability. Digital levels the playing field; I know this firsthand.
For more information about what makes EdTech products accessible, check out the VitalSource Guide to Accessibility in EdTech.