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Disability Redefined As E-Learning ‘Mismatch’

An attempt to redefine or reframe the term ‘disability’, in the context of online learning as a mismatch between a learner’s needs and the education process delivered, is enshrined in a new international e-learning standard.

ISO/IEC 24751:2008, ‘Information technology – individualised adaptability and accessibility in e-learning, education and training’ ( )
has been published by the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

The standard says it views disability as “a consequence of a mismatch between the learner’s needs (or preferences) and the education or learning experience delivered.

“For example, an individual who is blind is not disabled when the lesson is delivered in audio. However, an individual who does not have the necessary background knowledge to understand the lesson, or who is listening to the lesson in a noisy environment, is disabled.

“Thus, the needs and preferences of a user may arise from the user’s context or environment, the technical requirements of the user’s device, the tools available (e.g. assistive technologies such as Braille devices, voice recognition systems, alternative keyboards, etc.), the user’s background, or a disability in the traditional sense.

“Given this reframing of the meaning of “disability”, a learning environment is deemed as “accessible” when learner needs can be addressed or matched.”

The new standard is published in three parts. Part 1 offers a framework and reference model to describe and specify learner needs and preferences and the corresponding description of the digital learning resources. Part 2 sets out “access for all” criteria on personal needs and preferences, including how they can be ranked by priority. Finally, Part 3 provides a ‘digital resource description’, a common language for describing aspects of a computer system to facilitate their being matched to learners’ needs and preferences.

The standard or individual parts are available at a charge from ISO national member institutes such as the British Standards Institution, or from the ISO Central Secretariat.


  1. Gustaw Kon | April 21st, 2009 | 1:12 am

    Are people really paid for producing a three-part report which states that if someone does not have appropriate equipment, or is surrounded by heavy metal music,or does not understand what he is learning, that person is disabled? What an insight into the human condition. it fits well into the prissy world of “the differently able”!

  2. Tavis Reddick | April 30th, 2009 | 10:31 am

    I think the important point here is the specific context.
    Highly-trained, educated and physically fit astronauts and fighter pilots are disabled under the contexts of lift-off and high-g turns.
    Technology is used to overcome such disabilities and add new ones, such as night-vision, telecommunication and complex calculation abilities.

    In the context of e-learning, I’ve seen very many different ways of presenting material, which often only support a very narrow and constrained access method, using custom navigation systems and metaphors. If there was a framework you could use to make this content accessible in a much wider sense, then this would benefit users, editors, designers, developers and ultimately authors too.

    What would you call the option to bookmark the last position you reached in a learning object? An aid to the memory-impaired, or a simply a useful feature? Having on-screen prompts and shortcuts can help if you’re tired, and in this context, that counts as disabled in the sense of “less able to concentrate and remember things”.

    The evidence shows there is a tendency for people to develop for themselves, and you need something like a framework to correct for this flaw, based on research into needs, preferences, solutions, conventions and technology.

  3. Derick Jones | May 17th, 2010 | 8:18 am

    “Specific context hold the key here. The instances you sighted are apt.
    Similarly in classroom e-learning, we see that if backc hannel is being used, even the shy kids (who would otherwise not participate), get involved in the discussion.
    So these shy kids who would otherwise be disabled in a regular classroom, now learn and interact with their classmates, as the context is different.Thanks for a post that will make people think.”

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