R & D project

Accessible digital futures

Unlocking the potential for accessible digital and AI technologies in higher education (HE).

Students in the library talk next to a robot.

Started

Expected outcome:

Advice

A new opportunity for accessible innovation

New digital and AI technologies are radically transforming all facets of society, including HE where they can foster greater inclusiveness and productivity when created with accessibility in mind.

We believe that the potential of accessible technologies can be a great avenue for the UK on its path to becoming a global leader in digital and AI technologies.

The project has two objectives:

  1. To examine the opportunities and barriers for innovation and growth of accessible digital and AI technologies in HE. This will result in advice and guidance for key stakeholders in policy, industry and the HE sector
  2. To deliver a bespoke special events and knowledge-exchange programme, tailored to give key stakeholders practical advice and information on how accessible digital and AI technologies can be integrated into their institutional settings

Accessible technology solutions have the potential to be more than an after-thought or an after-the-fact bolt-on merely to satisfy a legal requirement. Done right, the development and adoption of accessible digital and AI technologies would boost Britain’s productivity, promote its technology industry, and ensure that the UK continues to be one of the most attractive places to study in the world.

The Equality Act 2010 requires HE to make reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for disabled students and staff. The introduction of the Public Sector Bodies (Web and Mobile Applications) No.2 (2018) Regulations, followed by a sector-wide move to digital delivery during the pandemic beginning in 2020, led to awareness of the importance of accessibility like never before.

The HE sector faces significant challenges in procuring digital and AI-powered tools that meet accessibility standards (as defined in WCAG 2.2 AA), often because suppliers do not fully understand the need for compliant products, information from suppliers is missing, or universities are unsure what information to ask for.

The European Accessibility Act (deadline for compliance 2025) will place more requirements on suppliers to provide products that are accessible, which provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of accessibility with the technology industry.

Despite growing interest in the potential of emergent technologies such as virtual and augmented reality for HE, we lack guidelines on ensuring these are accessible – from the development to procurement stage – and while the potential to create more inclusive experiences is often focused upon, the known barriers to use for disabled people are significant.

In this project, we want to examine what barriers there may be to embedding accessibility in product design and procurement, and what facilitators could lead to improvement.

Opportunities for accessible digital and AI technologies in HE

Digital and AI technologies are rapidly changing HE. We believe that this change provides a golden opportunity for the sector to learn from the advancements that have been made in inclusive design and assistant technologies in HE, making education accessible for all. It is also an opportunity to change those things that are not working.

We want to take full advantage of this moment as HE providers examine and upgrade their digital and AI-driven technological infrastructure to come up with a plan to ensure that this upgrade is responsible, ethical, inclusive, and ensures an accessible environment for students, academics, and staff. We also want to use this moment to promote accessibility as an attractive USP of UK digital products and HE.

The project’s goal is to develop and offer advice and recommendations to be used by policy makers, regulators and the HE sector to:

  • Make it easier for HE providers to procure good and responsible accessible digital and AI technology
  • Identify and promote the market opportunities for British tech companies to innovate and deliver cutting-edge accessibility products and solutions domestically and abroad

About our partners

The Glenlead Centre delivers high-quality research and policy solutions to legislators, regulators, policymakers, the public and private sectors, and academia. The centre’s impact includes policy recommendations to the US Federal Trade Commission, US Financial Consumer Protection Bureau, European Parliament, and UK Parliament; and a transatlantic regulatory workshop on deceptive design at the Nobel Prize Summit.

With most of the centre researchers holding doctorates from leading universities, they focus on building stakeholder capabilities and capacity for a more equitable and prosperous digital and AI-driven future. Clients include the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford.

Get involved

We are planning a rolling programme of events, commencing early 2024. Each event will look at a particular area for discussion and knowledge-sharing.

Topics in development include:

  • Opportunities for accessible AI
  • Products and procurement
  • Institutional ownership
  • International lessons learned

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Our project partners

  • Glenlead Centre logo

Meet the project team

  • Ann Glenster headshot

    Dr Ann Kristin Glenster

    Executive director, Glenlead Centre
  • Kellie Mote profile image.

    Kellie Mote

    Subject specialist (accessibility)
  • Anderona Cole headshot

    Anderona Cole

    External relations and public relations officer
  • Helen Nicholson headshot

    Helen Nicholson

    AI specialist, Edtech and co-design