RMIT Vietnam President Professor Gael McDonald recently spoke on education accessibility at the 2017 Innovation Forum, held at RMIT Vietnam’s Saigon South campus.
Professor McDonald said RMIT Access – an institution-wide initiative which enables students with a broad range of learning difficulties to have greater access to education – was essential to creating an inclusive system of higher learning.
“Through RMIT Access, we’ve looked at our own practices and completely transformed all of our learning materials to make them accessible for students with a range of learning differences,” she said.
Officially launched last year, RMIT Access ensures digital learning materials are presented in formats that are accessible by default. This means that all PowerPoint presentations will use the specially designed accessible template, all audio/video material will be accompanied by a transcript, and all images have a text description that can be read by screen reader software.
The initiative has converted more than 1400 existing PowerPoint presentations to the accessible format, and created more than 1000 transcripts and more than 1600 alternative texts for images.
Professor McDonald said that in Vietnam, knowledge and acceptance of learning differences is still not widespread and young people may never realise that this challenge is common.
“In 16 years of operation in Vietnam, we’ve seen students come to us with a range of challenges—many of which went undiagnosed for their first few decades of life. We’ve seen students with autism spectrum disorders, students with hearing impairments and visual limitations, students with learning difficulties like dyslexia, which affects roughly 1 in 25 of the population,” she said.
She gave examples of some of the world’s most successful people including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Virgin’s Richard Branson, English actress Emma Watson, and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, all of whom had overcome great challenges including learning differences, emotional trauma and physical issues.
“What is really crucial is raising awareness, helping to de-stigmatise differences and trying to inspire those who have differences to ensure they are not insurmountable barriers, but as very normal hurdles that can be overcome,” Professor McDonald said.
“This is not just one person, this is a large number of people whose future performance, future success, can be compromised if they are not adequately looked after. So all around the world, conversations like these are happening,” Professor McDonald said.
This year there are a total of 90 registered students for RMIT Vietnam’s Equitable Learning Services, triple the number of registrants from 2014. Professor McDonald said she believed RMIT Access would benefit many more students in the years to come.
The forum also featured discussions on trending educational issues such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), boot camps and alternatives to traditional education, and recommendations for further advancement of STEM education in Vietnam.
The 2017 Innovation Forum was hosted by RMIT University Vietnam, in conjunction with the University of Medicine and Pharmacy at Ho Chi Minh City and Pharma Group, and supported by the Australian Government.
Story: Vu Binh Minh & Le Mong Thuy