There has been a welcome upward trend in the number of disabled students entering further education (FE) and higher education (HE). Policy changes are emphasising choice, independence and value for money. Across the UK government priorities for widening participation and combating disadvantage have placed greater responsibility on institutions themselves to provide support for the students they recruit.
The most cost-effective response is to ensure inclusive practice is embedded in teaching, learning and assessment and crucially in procurement by being specific in policy and strategy. Our accessibility and inclusion guide will help you get started.
What you can do
Take a strategic approach
A strategic approach to inclusive digital delivery is the best way to meet the challenge because inclusive technology can promote independence and digital capability across the organisation.
It is an effective way to improve student satisfaction, retention and achievement and to meet inspection and compliance requirements. The image below identifies the resultant benefits to the organisation.
Link inclusion to policy
Policy can be used to 'join up' inclusive practices across all aspects of provision. You'll find the chapters on marketing and recruitment and teaching, learning and assessment in our guide to enhancing staff support for learners with disabilities, particularly helpful.
Reflect accessibility in all key policies and strategies so that everyone knows that they need to plan for a diverse range of learners needs. You can explore this further in our guidance on delivering an inclusive digital student experience.
Don’t exclude people when you don’t have to
Inclusive use of technology allows us to meet more people’s needs than ever before, including many who may not ask for help. Consult the widest range of learners at the start so there will be less need for additional support.
Increasing student independence should also provide a cost saving. Students and staff will benefit from increased confidence, productivity and employability skills. Awareness of digital inclusion is a core digital skill.
Identify role-related digital capabilities and link them to performance. Students will know what they are entitled to and staff will be able to meet expectations. We explore this further in our blog post on why digital capability needs to be inclusive.
Be specific about the role of assistive technology and productivity tools. This will help to ensure all learners can participate fully, and are properly-supported and motivated to achieve.
Build-in accessibility and usability checks at the start of the procurement process. This could avoid expensive adjustments further down the line.
Provide support for staff
You can do this by:
- Giving staff guidelines and standards on inclusive practice and making good use of the virtual learning environment (VLE) and online tools
- Providing templates and varied staff development opportunities that enable everyone to create accessible documents (covered in our institutional practice and accessible technology guidance)
- Including accessibility criteria in all module design and specification processes so that courses, curricula and assessments are designed to be inclusive from the start
Adapt your IT policy
To get the best from personalised and differentiated learning, your IT policy should:
- Aim for the infrastructure to encourage bring your own device (BYOD)
- Support the use of rich media
- Offer widespread access to assistive technologies and productivity tools
Make it a whole organisation approach
Everyone stands to benefit because accessible organisations are effective organisations. They have a culture of learner involvement, highly-skilled staff, responsive IT processes and efficient well-documented procedures.
The Equality Challenge Unit has resources for creating an inclusive environment in your organisation.
Our guide to enhancing staff support for learners with disabilities and our blog post on providing alternative formats can help you take practical steps. Read our guide to find out how everyone can support an inclusive learner experience in higher education.