Helping University of London to develop its accessibility best practices

Image of University of London's Senate House building

The University of London was established on principles of access to education regardless of gender, race or religion. This includes striving to provide a fully accessible and inclusive experience online, including its website, virtual learning environments (VLEs) and 450 distance learning programmes.

Ensuring that the University is meeting the Public Sector Digital Accessibility Regulations is a real challenge due in part to the vast amount of content across its large website estate; something that's common in higher education institutions. James Moore, Head of Digital Communications at the University of London, alongside the Head of Inclusion, Mark Harrison, felt that they should seek specialist advice from AbilityNet about how the University can address regulations.

"We don’t have any dedicated skills at University of London regarding accessibility and felt that using the services of a specialist agency would be more time- and cost-effective for us. Whilst our main website is not that old, we know that there are some areas where the website may have fallen short, as the functionality, design and content development has evolved over time," says James.

Highlighting content areas for improvement

A digital inclusion report and review (provided by McNaught Consultancy, our partner in delivering AbilityNet's FE/HE Accessibility Bundle) helped the University to better understand how accessible its site is.

The inclusion report and the subsequent Higher Education Accessibility review conducted by AbilityNet’s technical accessibility consultants highlighted key content opportunities for the University to consider.

"We have a lot of work to do around documents and PDFs on our website, and look forward to implementing the necessary processes to ensure these are addressed," says James. "The process of working with AbilityNet was very collaborative and they took the time to understand the key areas of the website. Its reports created for us were very comprehensive, but also provided the right amount of detail in order to rectify the issues flagged," he says. 

Developing accessibility training

The activity has also brought issues to the attention of senior managers about how the University needs to improve its communication around the provisions on offer for students. In addition, James and Mark noted the need to upskill existing staff to understand the regulations and ensure the University was including accessibility considerations as part of its business as usual practices. "We are looking forward to working with AbilityNet to deliver training services to relevant staff," says James. This includes introducing a process whereby staff are only able to edit any website content once they have received digital accessibility training.

Creating an Accessibility Hub

University of London logoThe University is working with its digital agency to implement the technical and design changes highlighted in the report and review.

James and his team developed an ‘accessibility hub’ on the website, which acts as the central location for finding relevant accessibility information. They are also establishing an Accessibility Steering Group, to bring together colleagues from across different areas to ensure accessibility considerations are built into all areas of the University; procurement, physical estate, brand and templates, and digital content development.

AbilityNet is seeing similar activity in other institutions that are driving the digital accessibility agenda forward.

Suggestions for other institutions

It was tricky for the team to get clarity and direction from senior staff on our institution's position on accessibility. So the team took a proactive approach to demonstrate to senior leaders that it can be done, by moving ahead with addressing the website, content development and other areas within our control.

"I would suggest that using a provider such as AbilityNet will save time and resource in the long run and give you a much deeper insight into any issues that may exist," says James.

James also notes that working with relevant accessibility networks and events such as those offered by Jisc (a membership organisation, providing digital solutions for UK education and research) and ucisa (a member-led professional body for digital practitioners within education) - see their websites for details of upcoming events. Jisc, for example, holds regular accessibility clinics, and an AbilityNet expert spoke about digital accessibility at a ucisa event specifically focused on accessibility.

Speak to our experts

AbilityNet offers tailored accessibility and usability support to clients from all sectors, including further and higher education accessibility support packages.

Speak to our experts about your project and we will advise on a bespoke accessibility strategy to meet your specific requirements.