Using a maturity model to improve accessibility at Gower College Swansea

Gower College Swansea logo in Welsh and English with blue and pink designWelsh further education institutions, Gower College Swansea, worked with AbilityNet and McNaught Consultancy to undertake a Further Education (FE) Accessibility Maturity Model guided assessment

AbilityNet's model is designed to help institutions find out their level of digital accessibility maturity. Gower College Swansea used this model to evaluate its accessibility using an evidence-based scoring framework that produced a detailed roadmap for them to follow.

How a maturity model works

The interactive maturity model helped Gower College Swansea to:

  • Determine where it was positioned in the model's Accessibility Maturity Spectrum
  • Understand risks and build on benefits
  • Identify support needs

Gower College Swansea's Digital Solutions Manager, Kate Pearce, is responsible for the college's digital platforms, websites, data in relation to teaching and learning, bespoke student-facing systems, and the general running of college innovation. Kate explains why the institution decided to go through the process:

"When thinking about the journey that we as a college needed to take and the work that needed to be done in terms of compliance, it felt really overwhelming. We needed help in understanding the steps we needed to take to make sense of where we were as an organisation and what we needed to do," she says.

Having a structure from AbilityNet helped Kate's team understand where it was on the maturity journey and what the College needed to understand, prioritise, and implement change.

Kate shared that the whole process was really enjoyable and has helped her team to manage expectations and celebrate ‘wins’ along the way, and also acknowledge how far they have come with their digital accessibility. 

Developing a roadmapLarge modern lecture hall with presenter at the front and students in the audience

Kate explains that the flexible structure of the model was tailored to their needs:

“The process allowed us to have a completely bespoke package, based on the College's structure, current position (in terms of digital accessibility) and aspirations. This could be adapted at any time during the collaboration... and was!”

The model has helped Gower College Swansea to understand its level of digital accessibility maturity and develop a roadmap from that.

"It’s also helped to identify key stakeholders in the college and understand their systems and workflow, and pinpoint areas for training and development," Kate says. "It has given us a baseline from which to measure ourselves against so we can access progress and spot development and training gaps," Kate continues.

"Working together gave me more confidence to push changes through as well as the knowledge and skills to address anxieties and barriers around these institutional changes," Kate says.

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Attend AbilityNet training courses to ensure your higher education or further education website, apps, eLearning tools and other digital services comply with UK accessibility regulations.

Engaging Digital Peer mentors

Since starting the maturity model process with AbilityNet, Gower College Swansea has now reviewed all the College's websites and accessibility statements to ensure compliance. It is raising awareness in business support departments by training staff on how to make PDF and Word documents accessible.

The College's staff development manager and Digital Peer mentors are also helping to cascade this to their different learning areas, such as Hair Beauty and Holistics, Humanities and languages, Science and Maths, Health and Social Care etc. 

Mandatory online learning for staff

Gower College Swansea now also has a mandatory introduction to digital accessibility eLearning course from AbilityNet for all teaching staff to complete, with supplementary materials for further development. Feedback from staff who took the eLearning course includes:

  • 90% of those who have taken the course now report that their understanding of accessibility has improved 
  • 80% will employ things learnt in the course in their teaching and learningThree employees sat as desks working on their computers

Kate and her team are now confident in their plans for accessibility and disability inclusion, especially continuing with staff development, awareness raising and training for making all documents accessible.

A conference with Accessibility and Inclusion as the theme is also being planned. Gower College Swansea also plans to work on collaborative projects with other colleges around professional development and Digital Accessibility.  

Key advice to make progress with accessibility

Kate shares her top suggestions:

  • Be tenacious and be brave. Talk to people across your institution, across all levels and jobs. (People really do want to engage but it can feel overwhelming and scary at first.)
  • Talk to students or customers about their experiences
  • Stakeholder engagement is crucial to making progress and making it sustainable
  • Work with experts ("AbilityNet has been great and the training is always excellent," says Kate.) 
  • Have fun and celebrate the successes!

How AbilityNet can help

If you're unsure as to where your institution is with digital accessibility maturity, AbilityNet's HE Maturity Model can be a great place to start.

The process will help you to create a roadmap for digital accessibility, throughout your organisation. 

Download the free HE and FE Maturity Model

Start your accessibility journey - speak to our experts

Do you need help with digital accessibility at your institution? We offer tailored accessibility and usability support to clients from all sectors.

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