The new digital accessibility regulations that came into effect last week will affect all public sector websites – including those of Jisc members.
Official advice and sector guidance
Change can be confusing and difficult to navigate, but advice is available from the Government Digital Service (GDS), which is responsible for monitoring the new regulations. This includes links to useful resources, such as guidance on constructing an accessibility statement, and details of need-to-know dates and requirements.
In addition, the Further and Higher Education Digital Accessibility Working Group has prepared a digital accessibility toolkit that contains sector-sourced guidance.
While these new regulations will take time and resource to implement, having apps, digital content and websites fully accessible can help improve student engagement with learning and, consequently, improve outcomes.
Advanced technology helps create and shape exciting new teaching and learning tools, and making sure accessibility is considered from the start will help widen participation across colleges and universities. This is a key part of Jisc’s Education 4.0 vision.
Support from Jisc
As the new digital accessibility regulations come in, the crucial information members need to take away is that all new websites and resources – including both those that are newly created and those that are substantially reviewed - must be compliant. Jisc has therefore prepared an accessibility landing page, linking to resources that members may find useful.
We have also been running monthly webinars, each attracting representatives from between 50 and 70 organisations. The last webinar focused on accessibility statements, and future sessions will be publicised through the digital accessibility regulations Jiscmail list.
Shaping the future
More is being done to support this work. As well as actively engaging with GDS around the implementation of these regulations, Jisc is working with the Department for Education (DfE) on the implementation of its edtech strategy. Our CEO, Paul Feldman, is on the leadership group, and I am a member of the DfE’s assistive technology (AT) experts’ group, which provides advice and feedback to ensure assistive technology is considered throughout the rollout of the edtech strategy.
As an organisation, we are also active in the review of provision for students in higher education (HE) through the House of Lords’ HE Commission for disabled students’ experience. Further, Jisc is supporting the AT network - a practitioner-led group of staff from both higher and further education.
‘The difference between failing and flying’
My personal interest in this sector goes back to the 1990s, when I gained work experience at the independent specialist Beaumont College in Lancaster. There, I saw how AT can make the difference between failing and flying.
When I first saw a student using a voice output communication aid (VOCA) as their voice, it was a key moment. I made AT central to my career and became an assistive technologist at Beaumont College in 2000, working to provide services to students and developing a number of national-scale projects - including one that utilised off-the-shelf tablet PCs as communication aids.
I left the college in 2015 to join Jisc and am now providing AT support to our members.
Putting members first
In addition to policy engagement work at Jisc, we’re working hard to renew our accessibility and assistive technology offer, following two well-known colleagues moving to new roles.
We are in the process of recruiting to fill these vacancies to offer a renewed service, while also collaborating with colleagues in other organisations, such as the Natspec TechAbility service. I look forward to taking this forward, engaging with members to support and inform their accessibility work and use of assistive technology.
Rohan Slaughter is a Jisc subject specialist (network, technologies and infrastructure). He can provide support to Jisc members on assistive technology.
A programme of training, various renewed web resources, and bespoke consultancy will support this area of work over the coming months. The Jisc accessibility web page will be updated as these offers are made available.
In the meantime, members may be interested in attending the TechAbility Annual Conference on Thursday 21 November 2019 in Birmingham.