This extended abstract is a contribution to the Accessible E-Learning Online Symposium of 16 December 2013. The contents of this paper was not developed by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and does not necessarily represent the consensus view of its membership.

Where e-learning models and social media collide: supporting the future education of blind and VI learners

1. Introduction

Sighted learners and Visually Impaired (VI) learners experience different problems when accessing e-learning environments. Web designers apply complex visual images and interactive features which VI learners are unable to access. As such, VI learners must rely on assistive technologies and conversion facilities to locate and translate the content they need into readable and accessible formats.  This paper explores the evolution of learning models that support the process, the new VIVID model approach and how developments in mainstream technologies and social media can potentially make a positive impact to e-learning outcomes.

2. Background

The problems faced by VI learners depend largely on how e-learning environments are modified to ensure successful outcomes. The most significant problems are the lack of accessibility to teaching materials and an inability to participate in the learning experience to the same extent as sighted learners. Teaching and learning materials designed for sighted learners are often unsuitable to those with vision impairment. Frequently, text provided is too small and cannot be altered; color graphics provide little value unless accompanied by text or audio description and interactive Web sites present numerous challenges in navigation. As a result, VI learners struggle to maintain the required learning timeframes in reading documents, completing assignments and sourcing reference materials.  This, in turn, leads to lower academic achievement for VI learners, which ultimately contributes to lower employment opportunities.

3. Strategy of established learning models

To address the issues faced by VI learners, e-learning environments need specific consideration in design and implementation. This ensures that the learning materials meet their needs and allow maximum accessibility so that the VI learners can achieve the same outcomes as their sighted peers.

There are a small number of existing models that assist the design of e-learning sites for people with a disability. Kelly and Phipps’s holistic model (2006) and Seale’s contextualised model (2006) are designed for people with disabilities in general and not specifically for those with vision impairment. Lazar’s Web accessibility integration model (2004) does not take into account the importance of the social elements. Prougestaporn’s WAVIP model, (2010) whilst it has generic guidelines, the model is limited in its scope.

4. A new approach - the VIVID model 

To identify the issues of existing models and discover an alternative solution, PhD research was undertaken by Ruchi Permvattana (2012) using Venable’s Design Science Research method to investigate the specific problems faced by VI learners enrolled in IT e-learning courses. The characteristics of approximately one hundred adult VI learners were investigated using two case study environments.  Data was collected by observation and semi-structured interviews with VI learners to identify their specific needs in a Web-based learning situation. Accessibility needs were also identified and analyzed. In addition, accessibility guidelines and legal and statutory requirements from several sources were also investigated. The focus of the research was to use the data components to deliver an effective, fully accessible IT curriculum in two Web-based e-learning environments for the VI was then identified.

In response, a new theoretical model, Vision Impaired using Virtual IT Discovery (VIVID) was then developed. This holistic framework takes into account the specific needs of VI learners. It also includes a social element which VI learners identified as being extremely important to the success of their learning.   An evaluation was carried out by a focus group of eight experts in the field of accessible and e-learning course design and the model was then modified to incorporate their suggestions (Permvattana, 2012).

The resulting model is a comprehensive conceptual model that can be applied in differing pedagogical environments relating to IT education for adult learners with vision disabilities. It provides a framework to guide education managers, instructional designers and developers who are creating accessible IT e-learning environments for the VI (Figure1.1).

The Vision Impaired using Virtual IT Discovery (VIVID) model. The model comprises 9 elements;  1. Legal Requirements, Standards and Guidelines 2. Institutional Factors 3. Evaluation, Feedback and Enhancement 4. Physical Classroom 5. Virtual Classroom and delivery 6. Accessible Curriculum 7. Learner Characteristics 8. Learning Outcomes 9. Social Elements 

Figure 1.1: The VI using Virtual IT Discovery (VIVID) model (Permvattana, 2012)

The implementation of the model is based on nine elements: Legal Requirements, Standards and Guidelines; Institutional Factors; Learning Objectives and Outcomes; Learner Characteristics; Accessible Virtual Classroom and Delivery; Physical Classroom; Accessible Curriculum; Social Elements and Evaluation, Feedback and Enhancement. Once the model is fully applied during the design and development of a new e-learning environment for the VI learner, modifications and enhancements will result and these should increase its usability and application.

5. Impact of mainstream technology advancements and social media

In recent times there has also been additional support for the implementation of the recently published VIIVD model in that many of the operating systems found in popular computers and mobile devices now contain accessibility tools.  For example, major OS releases this year from Microsoft, Apple and Google all contain built-in screen readers and screen magnifiers (Hollier, 2013).  As a result, the implementation of models such as VIVID have become more affordable and flexible, strengthening the online opportunities of blind and VI learners. 

While the recently published VIVID model has been highly significant in providing a framework for blind and VI learners, recent developments in the use of social media to support in e-learning suggests that additional benefits to blind and VI learners are starting to emerge  With the teacher and among other students is becoming increasingly prevent.  Benefits for education the ability to access online tutorials in YouTube, conduct research using Twitter and share ideas using blogging tools (Hollier, 2012).  Yet while these benefits currently extended to the other online learning models, blind and VI learners are facing challenges due to the inaccessibility of popular social media tools including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ (Boudreau, 2011).  While there have been some recent improvements in the accessibility of these tools, their increasing popularity and integration in the educational space makes it is necessarily to find ways to effectively integrate social media into learning models such as the VIVID model.

6. Conclusion

Blind and VI learners have often faced challenges in an e-learning environment due to the ineffective support of assistive technologies and the inaccessibility of Web -based learning materials.  However, the development models such as VIVID provide a clear framework for effective implementation of e-learning for such learners, and the increased provision of assistive technologies in popular mainstream computer and devices continues to make the models easier to implement.  While still relatively new, social media is also likely to continue providing new opportunities to blind and VI users as the associated accessibility barriers are addressed.


  1. Boudreau, Denis. (2011). Social Media Accessibility: where are we today? AccessibleWeb.  Retrieved 3 October 2010 from
  2. Hollier, Scott. (2012) SociABILITY: social media for people with a disability.  Media Access Australia.  Sydney. Retrieved 2 November 2013 from
  3. Hollier, Scott. (2013) Service Providers Accessibility Guide:  A quick reference guide for accessible communications.  Media Access Australia.  Sydney. Retrieved 2 November 2013 from
  4. Kelly, Brian., Phipps, Lawrie. (2006) Holistic approaches to e-learning accessibility. ALT-J, 14 (1): 69-78.
  5. Lazar, Jonathan., Sponaugle, Alfreda. Dudley., Greenidge, Kisha-Dawn. (2004) Improving web accessibility: a study of webmaster perceptions Computers in Human Behavior 20 269–288
  6. Permvattana, Ruchi., Armstrong, Helen., Murray, Iain. (2013) "E-learning for the VI: A holistic perspective", International Journal of Cyber Society and Education, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 15-30.
  7. Permvattana, Ruchi. (2012) The VIVID model: accessible IT e-learning environments for the VI. -Thesis (Ph.D.)- School of Information Systems. Curtin University. Source
  8. Prougestaporn, P. (2010) Development of a web accessibility model for visually-impaired students on Elearning Web sites-Educational and Network Technology (ICENT), Page(s): 20 – 24 International Conference on DOI: 10.1109/ICENT.2010.5532117
  9. Seale, Jane. (2006), Contextualised Model of Accessible e-Learning Practice in Higher Education, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 22(2), 268-288. Source:
  10. Venable, John. (2006) The Role of Theory and Theorizing in Design Science Research. Paper presented at the Design Science Research in Information Systems and Technology (DESRIST) Feb 24, Claremont, CA: Claremont Graduate University.