In LTHEChat #250 @xlearn encouraged us to think about our personal perspectives and approaches to digital accessibility, and this week’s chat can be seen very much as a continuation of that. In our respective roles in academic development (Martin) and student wellbeing support (Shapna) we have both been long-time advocates of effective digital accessibility practices, always trying to model equitable, accessible practices in our own resource design and teaching materials. Whilst legislation (Equality Act, 2010 and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1, 2018) offer imperatives and drivers that have focussed the attention of senior education leaders and led to policy creation, we have always personally favoured focussing where possible on values and ethics: We should do this not only because it is a legal duty but because it is the right thing to do.
In our respective roles, we rarely encounter resistance to effective digital accessibility practices in principle, but we are often confronted with resistance on practical or resourcing grounds. How then to turn positive values into a new year’s resolution that can normalise effective digitally accessible practices? How much is it about growing knowledge of what ‘digital accessibility’ means in practical terms? How much is it about turning good intentions and growing knowledge into routine practice?
At both our institutions, we are working to build on practices such as the adoption of Blackboard Ally, institutional and departmental auditing (for example, via AbilityNet), generic and discipline-targeted workshops and ‘campaigns’ targeted at raising awareness and skills in specific areas (e.g. Writing alternative text or captioning media content). Like many across the sector, we emphasise the importance of embedding equitable and inclusive practices at the design stage. Rather than thinking digital accessibility is something that needs adding when students with defined learning needs or a specific disability are identified, we are encouraging colleagues to draw on universal design principles and assume digital accessibility is a norm that will have potential benefits to all. In addition, at UCL (working in concert with the Head of Digital Accessibility @Access_Watson, Ben Watson), to help facilitate this approach, we are developing a tool that will challenge colleagues to consider their values, knowledge and behaviours in terms of a broad commitment to digital accessibility and according to 12 indicative practices. The idea is that colleagues answer a series of questions that suggest where they are currently, pushing them toward targeted and personalised developmental resources. Although still very much in development, colleagues may wish to see the (evolving) engagement model and answer the anonymous ‘behaviours’ questions.
So, please join us to share your own digital accessibility resolutions; let us know what you think the major barriers will be as we look ahead to 2023 and, above all, share your ideas, plans and tried and tested techniques to help you and your colleagues keep to those resolutions.
Martin Compton is an Associate Professor at the Arena Centre for Research-Based Education at University College London. For the last 20 years or so, he has worked primarily in teacher and academic development, including 5 years running an online PGCert HE.
Shapna Compton is an Assistant Head of the Student Wellbeing Service at the University of Greenwich. She has worked in education for over twenty years, specialising in specific learning difficulties, disabilities and equity of access.