Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Making Data Flow Diagrams Accessible for Visually Impaired Students Using Excel Tables

Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Making Data Flow Diagrams Accessible for Visually Impaired Students Using Excel Tables

Article excerpt


Most colleges and universities strive to meet the needs of the approximately 11% of their students with disabilities (U.S. Department of Education, 2012). These institutions have staff that work with qualified students who meet the academic and technical standards requisite to admission to find accommodations that help them complete courses and/or degree programs of interest. These professionals guide faculty to find ways of presenting and grading material to place these students on a level playing field with non-disabled students.

Sometimes making the accommodations can be challenging. Consider, for example, the 3% of disabled students who suffer from some form of blindness, including individuals who reported that they have trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, as well as to individuals who reported that they are blind or unable to see at all (Raue and Lewis, 2011). The recommended accommodations for such students include alternate versions of texts, lecture notes and exams, extended times to complete exams, and the use of screen readers and adaptive software during classes and exams. Generally these accommodations are sufficient for a student, but not always. Information Systems (IS) professionals have a variety of graphical tools for visualizing systems from a variety of perspectives. These tools are intended to help analysts and designers understand better system requirements and challenges in creating a computer-based system. However, the tools are not accessible to the student who has no sight because the representation of the shapes is not readable by screen readers and thus it is not possible to communicate them to the student. Further, most tools require use of a mouse, and some blind students cannot use a mouse in an effective way; even if they could "see" the diagram, they could not adjust the diagram. If, as is usually true, the location of items is meaningful, even if the student could "see" the diagram, the locations of symbols would be obscured by the way reading software would present it (Donker, Klante, and Gorney, 2002; Luque et al., 2014). Finally, if that student has never had sight, he or she is unlikely to appreciate the idea behind the visualization, and find it tedious to try to understand it. This will impact the student's ability to understand and utilize the data, regardless of presentation, in an efficient manner (Bennett, 2002).

If the use of such tools is important to IS professionals without visual disability, then it is also important for the thousands of IS professionals who have a visual disability. More to the point, since these tools are particularly important for those new to the field, it is imperative that students without the benefit of sight have access to the tools. Of course, the ideal situation would be for industry to develop software that addresses the needs of visually disabled students. In the meanwhile, faculty members need to find a way to accommodate these students (Ladner, 1989).

This paper demonstrates a method used to accommodate such a student in a Systems Analysis class. The particular diagraming tool discussed is Data Flow Diagrams, which is important both for understanding a computer system and for analysts to communicate changes to the system to a client.


The Data Flow Diagram (DFD) is one of the oldest structured tools available to support systems analysis and design. Gane and Sarson (1979), Yourdon and Constantine (1979), and Hatley and Pirbhai (1987) all recognize the need to provide a graphical representation of the logical path of information through a system. They propose a simple representation that includes the flow of information, the location where information was transformed, the storage of data, and the source and sink of the information. Unlike flow charts that preceded them or the variety of other graphical tools that have come since their development, data flow diagrams do not require the analyst to commit to a physical implementation of any sort. …

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