Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations: your questions answered

AbilityNet and University of York logosAt AbilityNet we are committed to providing information and support to higher education (HE) institutions and public sector organisations that are impacted by UK digital accessibility regulations. On a recent webinar Abi James of AbilityNet was joined by Richard Walker of the University of York who shared how his institution is meeting the new legislation head-on.

Plenty of questions came through from attendees on the live webinar, these in addition to those posed during the HE and Public Sector Regulations session held at TechShare Pro 2019 last month - the UK's leading accessibility and inclusive design conference. We did our best to answer as many questions as possible on the live webinar, and there are further typed responses included below.

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Your questions answered

Q: Where should the accessibility statement sit? How do we make sure users can find it?

A: Richard explains at the University of York they have placed their VLE (virtual learning environment) statement on an accessibility tab which is available pre-authentication, and this acts as an aggregate statement with links to accessibility guidance/statements for all related systems that students will be using. The plan is to have this also link up to their top-level institutional statement when that’s available.

Q: Do you think it's vital that third parties using University of York content, such as FutureLearn for example, where you run MOOCs (massive open online courses), strictly meet the public sector regulations? Or do they fall outside your immediate obligations or concerns?

A: "Absolutely yes - it’s a joint responsibility," says Richard. FutureLearn follow a rigorous QA process. "Most of the issues they flag on final review of MOOC materials pre-launch relate to accessibility and they pick up on very minor lapses or omissions, so it's something we know from experience that they take very seriously - not surprising given the variety of devices and countries learners engage from. FutureLearn are very particular with regard to full alt tag descriptions, as an example full explanations of graphs and charts are required, and transcripts for every video are mandatory, even third-party ones that we link to and don't host ourselves - where they insist we create our own transcripts and add to the course site."

Q: Do any HE institutions have a process for quality checking the accessibility of the content academics are providing? Whose responsibility is it?

A: Sharing how this works at the University of York, Richard explains that for fully online programmes they (the central elearning team and their commercial partner) do this. For blended courses it’s the academic’s responsibility, but they provide assistance (through Ally; internal support; guidance and review criteria support, etc).

Q: How can, or should, widening access outreach teams help to prepare students for a successful transition to higher education, particularly when considering active engagement on a digital platform?

A: The transitional skills sessions the University of York runs for schools engaged with Widening Participation and Student Recruitment projects don't cover digital skills - "perhaps this is something we can look into at some point," Richard comments. For confirmed, unconditional students making the transition to HE, they currently provide dedicated access to ’Preparing to Study’ transition sites (based on the student's department/discipline) prior to arrival at York. For fully online programmes, the student is encouraged to complete study skills modules before they begin their programme.

Q: We've heard about carrot and stick (referring to the offer of reward vs. the threat of punishment). I'm more in favour of using the carrot. However if the law isn't enforced do you feel that websites will become accessible?

A: "This is all about culture change through education and awareness," says Richard. "It will take time - and should be part of a general digital capabilities upskilling effort." Richard acknowledges the matter is complex and impacts on so many areas including staff recruitment, training, procurement, quality assurance, etc. 

Further resources

In anticipation of appearing on our webinar, Richard shared six steps to help you think about an approach to meeting accessibility regulations which you could adapt for your institution.