Thorsten Busse
Institute for Work and Technology, Munscheidstr. 14, 45886 Gelsenkirchen, Germany
Ileana Hamburg
Institute for Work and Technology, Munscheidstr. 14, 45886 Gelsenkirchen, Germany
Keywords: Learners with disabilities, Basic skills, Web-based Training.
Abstract: Learners with disabilities need to (re) learn basic skills at all levels to enable them to lead more independent
lives, to improve their literacy or numeracy, to gain employment or enter further education. Web-based
Training - WbT has the potential to offer many advantages over traditional instructor-led training. In this
paper after a listing of some barriers of (re-)learning of basic skills And of some ways to make WbT courses
more accessible for disabled people, two ongoing European projects are presented having as one of the ob-
jectives the use of WbT for (re)learning of basic skills at people with learning and/or physical disabilities.
Due to onset of illness or accident basic skills of
some people have deteriorated.
People with disabilities need to learn basic skills
at all levels (Wehmeyer 2002; Hamburg et al. 2003).
They should help them to lead more independent
lives, to improve their literacy or
numeracy, to gain
employment or enter further education. Some people
with disabilities will be able to access the basic skills
curriculum and progress through the basic skills
standards as long as they have the support they need.
Because the learning needs of people with dis-
abilities are often more complex than by people
without disabilities, the impact of usual barriers for
achieving basic skills at them may be greater, par-
ticularly at adult ones (Freedom to Learn 2005;
Hamburg et al. 2004). So it is important that local,
national and European strategies and projects on
adult basic skills take into consideration learning
difficulties of people with disabilities.
More about the barriers to learning of people
with disabilities will be presented in part 2.
Computer-based training in which the training
material resides on Web pages accessible through
the World Wide Web (Web-based Training- WbT)
has the potential to offer many advantages over
traditional instructor-led training for re-learning
basic skills providing flexibility in terms of time,
place, adaptation of the learning material, audience,
individualized (customized) content
(Hamburg et al. 2005).
There are also disadvantages of such training like
bandwidth limitations for certain media types and
assistive technologies necessary for disabled people,
initial development costs which can be more expen-
sive than development costs for print-based or in-
structor led training, longer development time. The
learners must be self-directed learners and comfort-
able using the Web. In order to make WbT as effec-
tive as face-to-face instruction when training some
basic skills (Hamburg et al. 2004) it is necessary to
assure accessibility of the corresponding WbT
courses. In the part 3 of this paper some ways to
realize this are given.
In the part 4 of the paper we give examples of
applications of WbT to people with mental disabili-
ties, learning disabilities and/or physical disabilities
within two European projects.
Busse T. and Hamburg I. (2006).
In Proceedings of WEBIST 2006 - Second International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies - Society, e-Business and
e-Government / e-Learning, pages 371-374
DOI: 10.5220/0001240103710374
One barrier that hinders the (re-)learning of basic
skills could be the poor range and quality of provi-
sion in some areas which means that many disabled
adults are still not given the opportunities they need
to learn basic skills. It seems that such depend on the
commitment and initiative of individuals rather than
on a clearly defined right of access.
A second problem is that learning deficiencies or
other ones require good specialist teaching, which is
not available to many learners because of the short-
age of skilled and qualified teachers. A major barrier
for many learners including those with severe learn-
ing difficulties is that their performance is well be-
low the entry level for the standards and many
teachers do not know how to proceed with them.
Some learners require specialist equipment, but
many teachers are unfamiliar with the range of spe-
cial available software. Other learners require trans-
port to the place of learning, more accessible ac-
commodation, timetabling which avoids fatigue, or a
personal assistant who is sometimes missing.
Also the curriculum for basic skills is insuffi-
ciently flexible to enable all learners to build new
skills which are required in connection with many
economic and technical changes for example to learn
them to use the Web, to communicate through media
such as Braille, symbols, Sign Language or other
communication technology.
Many learners need continuous learning oppor-
tunities and/or learning in a community; Suitable
learning provision could be realised by combination
of formal education including WbT and informal
education methods including different evenings,
activities of social and health services, etc. (Davis
et al. 2001).
One of our projects concentrates to learners with
learning difficulties and with mentally disabilities
(Agran and Wehmeyer 1999). Many people still
regard them as unable to learn and retain basic skills
and there is lack of experience in many European
countries in teaching people with learning difficul-
ties. The capacity of such learners to develop skills
is affected by the level of cognitive ability and many
of them l have an additional disability, such as sen-
sory or physical impairment, in addition to their
cognitive or intellectual impairment. Many learners
have low expectations and a lack of confidence
because of their poor or bad previous experiences.
Usually accessible common standards will bene-
fit the majority of learners but often some learners
are unable to achieve competence in one or more
aspects of the standards because of their cognitive,
sensory or physical impairment. For these students,
flexible pathways or alternative ways of demonstrat-
ing competence will enable them to continue to
make progress.
It is necessary that all learners have individual
learning plans, and wherever possible, involved in
agreeing them. Many learners with learning difficul-
ties need materials to be produced in a range of
media such as CD-ROM, audio etc. and need assis-
tive technology to access and use these materials.
The basic skills for people with learning disabili-
ties include essential skills for everyday living,
learning to learn, communication skills including IT
skills, creative skills to promote self expression, and
confidence building skills. The teaching of basic
skills should be (when possible) integrated with the
rest of people’s lives. There is little Web-based
learning material for adults that are age-appropriate
and sufficiently challenging. It is important that each
student is involved in deciding which skills to de-
velop and to have an individualised learning plan
build on previous learning experiences and experi-
ence with the Web.
Some people with learning difficulties and/or
disabilities may have additional mental health diffi-
Learners with mental health difficulties need
flexible forms of provision which reflects the epi-
sodic nature of mental ill health. Very often medica-
tion interferes with learning and memory function
and this could be a barrier to learning. Confidence
and communication skills are often adversely af-
fected by such people and they should be re-learned.
It is necessary that training for all tutors include an
awareness-raising element on mental health difficul-
ties. WbT can be a help for tutors in this direction.
Learners would like opportunities to re-learn lost
skills and thereby to increase their confidence and
self esteem. WbT can offer the advantages to learn
at peace in a welcoming environment, with desired
breaks. If they have Web-skills they can get also
additional information about their illness. Learners
should do small steps of progress and learn particu-
larly social skills and should get confidence with
Web environments. Support must be available at any
transition stage of the illness and learning.
Learning opportunities for people with mental
health difficulties, including basic skills provision, is
under-developed nationally so there should, there-
fore, be funded pilot projects relating to mental
health and basic skills.
The other project is oriented to young students
with physical disabilities to be active members of
the society. If they have not other disabilities then
they are able to access the general basic skills cur-
riculum as long as their support needs are met. They
have to achieve new skills like the computer and
Web skills. Main barriers for them refer transport,
physical access and accessible information, lack of
motivation, previous negative experiences. WbT has
the advantage to be accessible wherever they are but
this is often underused. It is important to use real life
situations to enhance teaching, to disseminate good
practices in this direction and to organize events to
motivate such students for using WbT.
Learners with physical disabilities could be inte-
grated in classes with people without disabilities by
learning basic skills when the flexibility of the pro-
gramme and the specific access are enabled. Mobil-
ity training by using wireless technologies and train-
ing that could be carried up at home are also impor-
In theory distance education particularly WbT is
ideally suited for people who are not able to attend
traditional environments but unfortunately the
courses are not always accessible to all learners who
wish to take them Hamburg et al. 2003). At their
design the ability (disability) and interest of the
student as well as the ability of the student’s com-
puter hardware and software have to be considered
(Rafferty 2005).
Firstly the accessibility should be understood by
the developers of courses and secondly by carefully
applying of instructional design and Web design
technique, accessible training courses can be created
that benefit all students.
Initially developers of courses should take easy
steps to improve accessibility having benefits for all
users. More difficult and specialized techniques for a
particular type of disability require compromise: for
example attending the needs of this disability the
content could become less accessible to people with
other disabilities. In order to maximize accessibility
established guidelines should be followed and an
appropriate balance to strike between the needs of
the users should be determined.
It is important also to understand the troubles a
disabled person has with accessibility due to the
software/hardware they are using for example
caused by differences in browsing setups.
Referring to instructional design some considera-
tions have to be addressed like knowing the students,
managing the subject matter and reformat traditional
educational text to make it more readable on the
Internet, create an esthetical experience that en-
hances the learning environment.
In connection with the improvement of accessi-
bility through Web site design there are many or-
ganisations which promote it like the Web Accessi-
bility Initiative (WAI) a division of the World Wide
Web Consortium (W3C). Some accessibility guide-
lines are (W3C 1999):
Use clear and consistent navigation menus
Use high contrast colours
Test web pages using a number of different
browsers and window sizes
Provide for keyboard navigation
Use text-only pages as a last resort
In the following we give two examples of creat-
ing and using accessible WbT for (re)learning of
basic skills by people with disabilities.
The Basic Skills Training Model within the frame-
work of the European project BASKI should take
the principle of equal opportunities into account and
lead institutionalised and hospitalised disabled peo-
ple to an appropriate degree of self-determination
and prepare them for active participation in society.
In a transnational cooperation, a Basic Skills
Training Model is to be developed, which shall on
the one hand support the target group of people with
learning or multiple disabilities by stimulating a
process of development so that they are able to live a
self-determined life, and on the other hand serve and
accompany institutions in the disability sector (shel-
tered workshops and assisted living) who care for
the target group. The interaction between the Basic
Skills Training and the accompanied Coaching of
social institutions is a central aim of the project.
The Basic Skills Trainings Model includes a
Curriculum for a Basic Skills Training for people
with learning or multiple disabilities in small groups,
methodical/didactic material developed to support
communication, the learning and group processes,
two Curricula for a further education addressing
professionals in psychosocial counselling (Train the
Trainer and European Counsellor), test and evalua-
tion reports received by the means of pilot groups.
The model will be available for dissemination on
a Web-site and on CD-ROM including a handbook
in the national languages of the participating coun-
tries and in English.
One objective of the second GRUNDTVIG pro-
ject TYAEST is to facilitate social integration of
young adults particularly with disabilities according
to their own aspirations. During some WbT sessions
basic computer skills and skills about the using of
the Internet should be learned. It is intended to com-
bine such technical sessions with informal events,
discussion forums etc to acquire also soft communi-
cation and cooperation skills building a European
virtual learning community of young people aged
between 16 and 25 with and without disabilities. A
learning and communication Web-based platform is
in the development (Hamburg et al. 2004; 2005).
People with disabilities are frequently disadvantaged
also when they need to (re) learn basic skills which
have deteriorated due to illness or accident. Often
they are unable to partake in traditional learning
activities. Accessible WbT course should be created
to help them to (re)integrate in social life for exam-
ple by carefully applying of instructional design and
Web design techniques. In order to achieve the
needs of people with special disabilities like the
mentally ones and to motivate them to learn we
would like to test in our projects different forms and
educational elements – text, sign-based language,
images, videos, etc. Among disabled people there
are a wide range of different educational levels and
learning has to be adapted to specific circumstances
if it is to be accessible and productive. Generalized
WbT is insufficient to meet their unique, individual
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