Why this role is important
Staff developers have a key role in improving the quality of teaching and learning. Ongoing staff development should include improving disability awareness and the potential for inclusive teaching practices to make a significant difference to disabled learners.
If teaching staff use technology effectively, learners have access to digital resources which offer more flexibility. This includes being able to magnify text, change colours or font types, use text-to-speech, and engage with different media. Digital resources can be made available for anytime, anyplace learning which can be further enhanced if staff create mobile-friendly formats.
For an organisation to become genuinely inclusive, staff developers need to work with senior management teams to ensure that:
- Basic accessibility awareness is part of staff induction
- Teaching and learning policies and quality assurance systems make reference to accessibility
- Different departments are aware of areas where they could work together.
What you can do
Ensure mainstream IT training covers accessibility
Many introductory IT training courses fail to cover accessibility and sometimes reinforce poor practice. For instance, using formatting such as bold, underline or manually changing the font size for subheadings instead of using heading styles reduces the accessibility of documents.
By ensuring introductory IT training is focused on accessible practice and value-added teaching opportunities, you will equip tutors to support a much wider range of learners.
See Microsoft's guidance on accessible documents and presentations.
Promote assistive technologies
Whilst not all assistive technologies are suitable for everyone, productivity tools such as mindmapping and text-to-speech can provide benefits for staff and learners.
If your organisation uses alternative browsers like Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome there are excellent free plugins that can offer instant support for learners who are print impaired and struggle to understand written text. Find out more about browser plugins for accessibility.
Offer training to support identified groups
Organisations have different demographics - some attract a high proportion of dyslexic learners whilst others might attract visually impaired learners. There is general information available on supporting these learners but it is often difficult to find practical information that focuses on how day-to-day technologies can support them.
Our guide to 'Meeting the requirements of learners with special educational needs' explores practical ways of supporting a range of specific needs.
Support personal tutors and pastoral roles
Students are often assigned a tutor for support and guidance. They are ideally placed to co-ordinate advice about the use of technologies for learning and can also advocate suitable technologies, such as e-books. As their experience of working with learners with disabilities increases, they will be more attuned to new possibilities.
Help disabled learners self-advocate
Staff development sessions on inclusion are much more authentic if they involve people with disabilities. If you have screenreader users in your organisation, ask them to support the web team’s professional development by evaluating the accessibility of website developments. They could also work with the library team to identify accessibility problems with the e-book collections or library advice and guidance.
Assess how well you are doing
In 2013, a consortium of disability advocacy groups put together learner-focused guidance on reasonable expectations for print impaired learner. Identify if there are any of these expectations that you are not currently meeting - these are potential areas for improving staff development.
Make it easy for tutors to create engaging inclusive content
The open source Xerte Online Toolkits create more accessible outputs than many commercial rivals and has the added advantage of producing mobile-friendly content. There is a strong Xerte community with many showcase examples on their site.
Who to work with
Disability support teams can introduce people to:
- The potential of inbuilt text-to-speech in Word
- Free assistive technology tools for learners
- The benefits of e-books for print-impaired learners.
- Learning technologists can embed technical skills and work with disability specialists to explore accessibility benefits and barriers of different tools
- Administrative staff can produce student guidance and information or prepare it for teaching staff
- Library teams can use their knowledge of online resources and media repositories to help staff teach in more inclusive ways.