Network for Inclusive Distance Education


Synchronous Communication Tools

CSS Generator
Physics Lab Haptic Pendulum Project A-Prompt Music Notation
Interactive Learning Tools MathML Project

Interactive Learning Tools

This component of the Network for Inclusive Distance Education (NIDE) project was created to support the design, development, and implementation of interactive educational tools delivered to Ontario learners via computer networks.

The partners in this project included Digital Frog International (DFI), Snowbird Software, W Ross MacDonald School for students with visual disabilities, and the University of Toronto's Adaptive Technology Resource Centre (ATRC). All were selected for their expertise in addressing barriers to distance education.

Learners of all ages, from pre-schoolers to university students and adults involved in workplace training initiatives can benefit from distance education programs. But the group that stands to benefit most are people with disabilities.

For learners with disabilities, distance education eliminates such concerns as transportation to and from school and physical access to classrooms and lecture halls. Unlike printed documents, individuals who are vision impaired, dyslexic or have mobility problems can all access electronic text.

Educational material delivered via computer networks can be easily adapted to various learning styles, rates, and communication formats. At present, however, interactive courseware (such as math or science simulations) often excludes students who are blind or cannot use a mouse.

The teams involved in the NIDE interactive learning tool projects have demonstrated that it is possible to develop inclusive network tools. Project descriptions are listed below:

Digital Frog International

Digital Frog International (DFI), located in Puslinch, Ontario, is an award-winning developer of highly regarded software titles such as "The Digital Frog" (a simulated frog dissection tool) and "A Digital Field Trip to the Wetlands". DFI and the University of Toronto's ATRC team collaborated on the development of a fully accessible version of the company's interactive learning CD ROM "A Digital Field Trip to the Rainforest". This new version of "A Digital Field Trip to the Rainforest" offers the following accessibility features: self-voicing for users who have visual disabilities; full keyboard accessibility and descriptive audio captioning for all major video components; interactive learning exercises accessible to visual and mobility impaired learners; and a glossary of all words used in the program.

Snowbird Software

Snowbird Software, based in Hamilton, Ontario, revised its highly adaptable and engaging chemistry simulation software "Electric Chemistry Building" for the NIDE project. The inclusive version provides students with the opportunity to perform self-directed chemistry experiments by offering full keyboard accessibility, screen reader compatibility, speech output (where required), and high contrast graphics and text. Snowbird Software's "Electric Chemistry Building" allows students with disabilities to safely conduct experiments using up to 150 chemicals and a variety of laboratory equipment. The simulations provide readouts of all chemical reactions that occur as well as the weight, size and temperature of the reactants.


CitySpeak - Self-Voicing Urban Planning Tool
CitySpeak is an interactive geographic learning tool developed by the University of Toronto's ATRC team. CitySpeak allows teachers and students to create landscapes by selecting specific types of terrain and geographic features and then transform the model into a variety of different cityscapes. Urban elements are placed on the map and students are then required to justify their location and element choices by writing a supporting report for their design. CitySpeak reinforces understanding of geographical features, land-use considerations, urban planning styles and protocols, while addressing community needs and concerns. Unlike other urban planning tools, CitySpeak offers a fully accessible interactive learning experience. Accessibility features include: self-voicing, full keyboard accessibility, high contrast graphics, and an easy-to-use interface.

Haptics Periodic Table
The ATRC has combined Haptics technology with an electronic version of the periodic table to convey vital information to visually impaired students. Haptics technology offers tactile feedback for computer-generated images and text. Students with visual disabilities often face barriers when studying subjects that rely on graphical representations to convey information. Through a Haptics mouse, joystick (or other similar device), users are able to feel the outline and surface texture of objects appearing on-screen. In a standard Periodic Table, the information is conveyed to students in part by the relative position of elements within the chart. Although Braille versions of the table provide a sense of position for the elements, additional information must be omitted for the sake of clarity and space constraints. The ATRC's Haptics Periodic Table, however, enables students to identify the location of elements within the chart and "feel" their relative atomic weight. Students are also able to learn more about an element's uses, its history, and relationships within the structure of the table. Accessibility features include: self-voicing; full keyboard accessibility; a Haptics-enhanced learning experience via a Wingman mouse or joystick; extensive audio-cues supplementing the navigation system; and detailed information about each element. The Haptics Periodic Table also includes a high contrast graphical interface for low vision users.

Haptic Grapher
The ATRC, in conjunction with the W Ross MacDonald School for students with visual disabilities in Brantford, Ontario, has developed a Haptics graph tool. The Haptic Grapher enables students with a visual disability to "feel" line graphs using a Wingman mouse or joystick. It is extremely difficult – if not impossible – for blind or low vision students to extract information from visual graphs. But a graph created with the Haptic Grapher allows students to move from point to point along lines within the graph and gain an understanding of the overall shape and the data being presented. The Haptic Grapher is also capable of printing out Braille versions of the graphs it generates. This device offers self-voicing and full keyboard accessibility.

Partnership information can be found below:

The Adaptive Technology Resource Centre

J.P. Robarts Library, First Floor, University of Toronto Information Commons
130 St. George St. Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 3H1
Telephone: (416) 978-4360 Fax: (416) 971-2629

For additional information please e-mail Laurie Harrison