But technology is the last, best hope for accessibility. It's not like the physical world, where there are good, tangible reasons why some things can never be accessible. A person who's blind will never be able to drive a car manually; someone in a wheelchair will never be able to climb the steps of an ancient stone cathedral. Technology is not like the physical world--technology can take any shape. Technology is our slave, and we can make it do what we want. With technology there are no good reasons, only excuses. ~J. Edwards (2007)
Every day disability is carted out before us and displayed in negative ways. Tanya Titchkosky (2011) notes the various ways disability is invoked in every day discourse such as a blind referee, a plea falling on deaf ears, among others (p. 3). The impression left is that disability is a failing, a weakness. This impression creates a clear divide. One that divides those with (so-called) disabilities and those that are (so-called) normal. There are aspects of this divide that are physical such as stairs, narrow doorways, keyboards, etc. However, there are also technological and virtual barriers that restrict access to those with disabilities. In this article, I argue that Mobile learning is one way to lessen that divide, why mobile technology should be the vehicle we use to do so, and I offer some direction to begin this process. Before a discussion of mobile learning can take place, though, we need to review how we traveled through e-learning to mobile learning.
E-learning has been a relatively stable field for several years because of the resources available to most universities and educational institutions, and it has received a bump with the advent of online classes and online degree programs. Regardless of the discussion around e-learning, there is a need to move beyond it to where students devote a larger segment of their leisure time. First, this was television. Many recall how television changed education. It connected people from around the world quickly and helped students watch major news and cultural events in real time. Further, educational institutions picked up on this trend and created television courses and gave them a slot on the public channel or a university channel through a cable network. Many universities still offer such courses, and they still allow students to view them at their leisure.
Over time, computers and the Internet forced universities to adapt again. Part of this progression was aided by scholars in Rhetoric and Composition such as Cynthia L. Selfe, Richard J. Selfe, Richard Ohmann, Gail E. Hawisher, Dánielle Nicole Devoss, among many others. Part of that ongoing discussion was about access and availability, while some was about hardware and programming. Other discussions were about computer classroom pedagogy and identity on and off line. Arguably some of the richest discussions derived from collaboration and working across space, which enhanced and might have provided for online classes as we understand them today. Through innovation, computers became smaller. Eventually, small computers (e.g. PDAs) and telephone technology met up and intermingled.
The first cell phones were clunky, cumbersome bags or briefcases that users toted around. At best, one could make a phone call. At worst, the failed attempt cost about five dollars. Over time and better technology, mobile phones took on larger and larger roles in many people's lives. Features were added such as calendars, calculators, and alarms, which only inspired even more features. Today, most mobile devices can not only make a call, but also surf the Web, help one navigate to the nearest gas station, and communicate through a now-very-common text message or SMS. More importantly, it is time for education to once again take advantage of this technology through mobile learning or m-learning.
The case for m-learning seems rather obvious. The case for m-learning relative to disability is just as obvious, but perhaps less realized. There is a future of mobile technology that, once mere Star Trek, is now becoming reality. People talking to computers and them responding. Small portable units that inform users about a given area, such as Google goggles. Even the use of laser-like devices to navigate through our daily space. But beyond any fictional television show, our mobile technology unlocks knowledge in many forms. Through the digitization of information, that information can now be disseminated in whatever form a user wants, from a different language to a auditory reading, from a visual representation to tactile information. The limits are within us, not the technology.