“In terms of accessibility and inclusion it is important to consider the wider benefits that technology can offer and not just the legal consequences.”
Rebecca McCready, learning and teaching advisor, Newcastle University and Member of UCISA user skills group
Promote inclusion and equality
Student feedback and National Student Survey (NSS) scores show that variables such as gender, ethnicity and social background affect satisfaction.
Consider use of digital technologies to provide flexible delivery models and alternative ways of communicating and to help learners to overcome some of these potential inhibitors and challenge inequality.
Using technology to increase the breadth and variety of ways students can access, engage with and progress their learning allows students to choose the ways and means that best suit their needs and personal circumstances.
Case study - Dublin Institute of Technology
At Dublin Institute of Technology an app called AtNorth has been developed to provide support for students registered with the disability service. The app is compatible with Apple, Google and Windows and offers guidance, support and direct communication with the assistive technology officer.
Case study - Pembrokeshire College
Based on the Moodle Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), mCommunity incorporates an individual learning and planning tool and the ability to incorporate instant messaging and social media functionality.
mCommunity is being used to facilitate remote personal tutorials, one-to-one support from a dedicated mTutor, individual learning and planning, the delivery of learning and to develop skills and improve learner opportunities for employment and further education.
Remove barriers to learning
Traditional teaching and learning approaches pose barriers for many learners because they focus on three core activities: listening, reading and writing, with text as a core element (see Figure 1 to the left).
This disadvantages learners with a print impairment1 (potentially ten per cent of learners), learners with English as a second language and learners with other disabilities such as sensory impairments or concentration and memory difficulties.
Create new opportunities
By contrast, technology enhanced learning can be used to transform traditional teaching and learning and improve accessibility, engagement and ultimately achievement. It also opens up a wide range of opportunities that can promote learner independence and empower both learners and staff.
Case study - East Durham College
At East Durham College everyday technologies such as a mobile phone, sound enhancing software, use of an open source, cross-browser toolbar to customise web pages, quizzes and the considered use of the virtual learning environment helped a student with a hearing impairment to overcome earlier negative experiences of education and succeed.
Case study - University of Greenwich
The Department of Computing and Information Systems at the University of Greenwich is exploring the use of video recording to provide inclusive learning opportunities for students studying digital design.
Tutors create audio and screen recordings of design tasks to accompany lectures as well as formative seminars. Students are able to record and submit design tasks instead of written work and practical submissions are assessed via live debate with recorded tutor and peer feedback.
Final year project demonstrations are also recorded so that external examiners are able to see the process as well as the outcome.
Case study - Lewisham Southwark College
At Lewisham Southwark College iPads are used in the classroom to support students with a range of learning disabilities. A mix of apps and websites were used: in mathematics sessions; to facilitate communication with learners who have difficulty or choose not to speak; and to help develop independence in travelling.
Students became more engaged and more focused on achieving tasks when using the iPads and those previously unable or willing to communicate found a voice.
"The LexDis project has allowed the team to take a participatory approach to the way disabled students develop technology based strategies when working in e-learning situations.
Helpful guides have been created, providing hints and tips on how to make the most of e-learning technology. The strategies have been generated by those studying and working in further and higher education to help others make the most of a wide range of apps, productivity tools and assistive technologies."
E.A. Draffan, research staff in web and internet science, University of Southampton
Avoid common errors
While use of technology and digital content opens up new opportunities it is still possible to create accessibility barriers, for example, use of podcasts without transcripts or text summaries.
Meet your legal responsibilities and ‘reasonable expectations’
Universities, colleges and other learning providers have a legal responsibility to take measures to ensure that learning is accessible to all and to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ under the Equality Act 2010 to anticipate and respond to learner needs.
Prepare for legislative changes and variances in funding rules
Changes to the way Disabled Student Allowances (DSA) come into effect from 1 September 2015 require higher education institutions to give greater consideration to the delivery and assessment of their courses and how best to provide support.
The changes are intended to rebalance the responsibilities between government funding and institutional support and to encourage greater use of the technology available to reduce reliance on DSA funding for those with mild difficulties.
In colleges and learning providers, there is an expectation that technology will be used to support high needs students (HNS).
Guidelines on how funding for HNS in further education is administered is available from the Education Funding Agency (students up to 18 and young people 19-25 who have a Learning Difficulty Assessment or Education, Health and Care Plan) and the Skills Funding Agency (students over the age of 19).
Learning providers will also be aware that all awarding bodies2 now have to offer an accessible digital version of formal exams.
What is reasonable?
Our learner-focused guide ‘reasonable expectations’ outlines what accessibility and assistive technology support a learner can reasonably to expect to be available in post-16 providers.
As organisations seek to enhance the digital student experience it is vital that accessibility is at the forefront of planning, procurement, training and delivery. Joining up policy to practice is perhaps the most significant way of ensuring that technology is routinely considered as one way of making a sustainable difference.
Amplify accessibility benefits
Policy decisions that ignore accessibility are bad for disabled learners and also potentially create negative impacts for many more learners and the whole organisation, including substantial legal risks. Conversely, policies that embed accessibility offer benefits far beyond their target audience as the table below shows:
Sample accessibility policy
Impacts on practice
Infrastructure: The virtual learning environment has been designed to meet high accessibility standards and in consultation with disabled users.
Training and quality assurance: Tutor-created content follows basic accessibility requirements such as heading styles, image description (Word); use of Notes field (PowerPoint). Podcasts and videos have transcripts, subtitles or key point summaries as appropriate.
Teaching resources: commercial –
accessibility is a key criterion in selecting reading lists and licensing e-book platforms.
Teaching resources: institutionally created – accessibility is a key criterion for content creation tools used by teaching staff or content developers.
- 1 "Anyone with a visual impairment, dyslexia, aphasia, colour blindness, poor literacy skills, those for whom written English is not their first language or anyone who has difficulty with the mechanics of reading and interpreting the message" - taken from interview with E.A. Draffan. Source: http://www.yourdolphin.com/dolphin.asp?id=85
- 2 Awarding bodies are organisations that develop and award qualifications to meet the needs of learners,employers and other stakeholders