Define your accessibility roadmap beyond regulation deadlines

Whilst there's understandable pressure to ensure your institution complies with the upcoming Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations deadline, it also creates a good opportunity to define your accessibility roadmap beyond 23 September 2020. 

Within the public sector, most universities, for example, will have many different sites with varied issues to address – make sure you are clear on what's in scope for September, and then what you need to focus on beyond.

Can you use the preparation time to map out your organisation's accessible future? Will you work with others to take a comprehensive whole institution approach? 

You'll find resources below to help with identifying what you need to work on in time for the deadline, and contact us for help with prioritisation. You can also download the Accessibility Maturity Model for Higher and Further Education to establish strengths and development areas across themes including skills and expertise, culture, student experience and more.

How Open University embeds accessible thinking

In this guest blog from Kate Lister, Accessibility Manager at The Open University, explains how the enormous and complex institution approaches the broad accessibility needs of its student body by looking beyond regulation deadlines and creating a robust structure to make accessibility part of the fabric of everything it does.

The Open University Logo

The Open University (OU) is known for its commitment to accessibility. With more than 27,000 students declaring a disability (around 21% of its student body), the OU has more disabled students than any other university in Europe. But with more than 400 modules on offer and 6000 staff, a coordinated approach to accessibility is a challenge. Here’s how we do it. 

The OU’s Securing Greater Accessibility team (SeGA) was set up in 2010. Based in the Institute of Educational Technology (IET), SeGA promotes accessibility and inclusive practice across the university. The idea was to draw people together to support staff and students, and to be a force for good, driving, sharing and evaluating good practice. Its scope includes research and teaching, academic activity and service provision and evaluation. It operates via five key practices:

1. Accessibility champions

SeGA runs a network of over 50 accessibility champions and accessibility coordinators, with representatives across the university. Accessibility champions and coordinators have a substantive role in their units and a set amount of time dedicated to accessibility, so they can act as a point of contact in their area, supporting staff and answering queries. Accessibility coordinators based in faculties also coordinate reasonable adjustments and support module teams with specification and review processes. 

SeGA supports this network with specialised training, and runs a working group for the champions and coordinators to get involved in pan-university projects to improve accessibility. SeGA works to ensure they have time to interact, share current issues or examples of good practice, and explore how they can develop their role. 

2. Community

As well as the champions and coordinators, SeGA manages a wider community of people with an interest in accessibility. SeGA supports them with a community forum for accessibility-related news, queries, solutions and training opportunities, and with a regular special interest group that hosts internal and external speakers and facilitated group discussion. SeGA also supports them to get involved in research or scholarship work and wider HE networks.

Students working on computer

3. Student voice

An essential part of the accessibility community is the students. SeGA has a strong relationship with the OU’s Disabled Students Group; student representatives attend SeGA meetings, and we hold regular student voice events, bringing staff and students together. SeGA arranges for students to sit on all the formal groups and attend meetings to ensure their voices are heard.

4. Training and guidance 

SeGA runs regular training sessions on different aspects of accessibility, and creates guidance for staff which is hosted on its website.

Advice is available, for example, on how to describe images for blind and partially sighted students, how to assess a website or tools for accessibility, and the reasonable adjustment processes.

The website also hosts a directory of contacts for accessibility so that OU staff know who to contact with accessibility queries. This website includes online training, step by step guides, links to important documents and accessibility case studies.

SeGA also helps to run events where internal and external speakers present and discuss accessibility-related topics, through the OpenTEL Open and Inclusive Special Interest Group.

5. Process, policy and strategy

Student in library

SeGA coordinates a pan-university approach to accessibility via a coordination group, with members from across the university, including all of the four UK nations, and units such as the library, marketing, and careers teams.

It also convenes the Accessibility Referrals Panel, a group which takes referrals of complex accessibility issues and student cases and recommends solutions. Example cases include alternative assessments for a student who was paralysed by a recent stroke and unable to speak or write, adjustments to a residential school for a medically housebound student, and university-wide policy on recording of tutorials.

Cases can be raised by any member of staff where there is a complex situation that requires input from across the university; SeGA ensures this can happen and the most suitable solution can be found.

6. Research and scholarship

We know accessibility needs to keep improving, so part of SeGA’s work is dedicated to research and scholarship. Projects include:

  • ADMINS, a Microsoft-funded project to create an artificial intelligence (AI) virtual assistant to support disability disclosure and support solutions. 
  • Our Journey, a tool for students to map and represent their study journeys, so they can reflect on their achievements and how they overcame challenges, as well as making these challenges more visible to the institution. 
  • Inc Lang, investigating student perceptions of language around disability to identify preferences for discussing disability and support requirements. 

SeGA is a grassroots, bottom-up initiative. It was created after substantial lobbying by staff with an interest in accessibility and social justice, eventually accompanied by senior management support. It was started as a trial, but quickly proved its value, as the disabled student gap reduced substantially in its first two years of operation. 

SeGA works to provide a coordinated, strategic approach to enable a level playing field for disabled students.

People’s individual commitment and passion are what makes it work, and SeGA provides the channel for that to happen; it’s the hub connecting many, many spokes. As we celebrate our 10th year, it’s wonderful to look back on what’s been achieved, and to anticipate all that might be possible in the next decade.

Do you need help with your digital accessibility strategy at your institution? Meet your users' needs by building accessibility knowledge in-house. Speak to our experts to find out about our services.

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