What is accessibility?
Accessibility involves designing systems to optimise access. Being inclusive1 is about giving equal access and opportunities to everyone wherever possible. In education this involves reducing and overcoming the barriers that might occur in:
- Digital content
- Teaching and learning activities
The social model of disability suggests that the society or environment is disabling the individual rather than their impairment or difference. For example, it is clear that not providing subtitles on videos will disadvantage anyone watching in a noisy environment but lack of subtitles disadvantages deaf people all the time.
Accessibility is about designing out any unnecessary barriers that make it harder to engage and take part in everyday activities. As with the video subtitles, technology is a very useful tool in levelling the field.
What is assistive technology?
This is a term used for technology that assists someone to do something they would otherwise be unable to do or have difficult with. Some assistive technologies can be more accurately described as productivity tools because they make things easier or more efficient.
For example, a screen reader will enable a blind user to access online content whilst text to speech will make it easier for a dyslexic student to read on-screen.
For more details read our guide to using assistive and accessible technology in teaching and learning.
What your organisation can do
An accessible organisation is one that:
- Fosters independence for all students
- Has enhanced productivity
- Has reduced support costs
- Has improved engagement, retention and achievement
Accessibility is not just about creating accessible websites or documents. To do it well, accessibility needs to be incorporated into all aspects of an organisation’s structure:
- Strategy and policies – a commitment to accessibility with stated expectations will ensure that your organisation is truly inclusive and can benefit all your learners and staff (see our guide on a strategic approach to inclusive practice)
- Marketing – the readability of an organisation’s website and prospectus and how easy you make it for them to attend open days can be a decision maker for some users
- Procurement – taking different access needs into account at the outset when purchasing digital systems can reduce support costs because users will be able to access these systems independently
- Teaching, learning and assessment – inclusive teaching is more engaging and benefits all learners
- Libraries – play a crucial role within education provision, they can provide content in different formats and promote independent learning
- Assistive technology and productivity tools – there are a range of free and commercial tools that can both remove barriers and help all users (both staff and students) overcome existing ones
- Mobile devices – facilitating users’ own devices through a flexible and inclusive infrastructure can enable and extend creative and collaborative learning into new communities and spaces
- Staff development – inclusive digital capabilities training for all staff and an ethos of support and collaboration will create an accessible and inclusive organisation
Read our detailed guidance on how your organisation can support disabled learners.
Our specialist consultancy service can help make your organisation more digitally-inclusive.
- 1 Read the HEFCE blog: What do you mean 'inclusive practice'? http://blog.hefce.ac.uk/2017/02/17/what-do-you-mean-inclusive-practice/