Three gems of accessibility wisdom about education

Missed this year's BETT Education Technology show in London? Here's an update about what you need to know, particularly if you work in education technology (EdTech). 

Abi James, principal digital accessibility and usability consultant at AbilityNet, has gathered three of the key accessibility-related talking points from the event last month, including its focus on inclusion, Accessibility Statement regulations, and EdTech provision improvements.

Abi James speaking onstage at BETT conference 20201. Accessibility is finally a more major focus for all organisations

A significant, noticeable difference at this year's BETT was that many presenters and discussions included mention of inclusion, and personalisation, within their products and services.

"I have been going to this and similar events for many years, and it was clear that inclusion is now a key focus for many clued-up organisations," Abi says.

"Microsoft was demonstrating its Immersive Reader, a free tool that uses proven techniques to improve reading for people regardless of their age or ability. Inclusion was mentioned in the keynote, by the Department for Education, and in general people were talking about how they can help a diverse range of learners," says Abi.

2. More assistive tech will be available in mainstream education settings

An announcement at the event shared news that more funding will soon be available from the government to embed assistive tech more widely in mainstream education and school settings - not just within special needs schools and colleges.

As a result, 'Demonstrator schools' and 'testbeds' are being introduced by the government to more proactively roll out assistive technology in schools. 

These demonstrator schools will be required to share best practice in their regions - sharing what works and doesn't work in terms of their processes for introducing more complex assistive tech solutions in their general teaching practices. Then their activities will be evaluated by a university partner.

"These initiatives will allow schools to learn not only what types of technology help learners but also how to implement it within a school environment. This is often the biggest challenge to improving access to assistive technology. In particular, it will be an opportunity for mainstream schools to learn from specialist schools as well as colleges where assistive technology is used much more widely," says Abi.

3. Take note of updated Public Sector Accessibility Regulations: Accessibility Statements

Abi highlights the need for those in the education sector to be aware of its accessibility responsibilities, particularly after the latest addition to the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations, which requires that public service providers including many schools, colleges and universities ensure their websites and digital platforms meet accessibility standards.

"The latest addition to the regulations is to ensure that even if you're in a public sector organisation that's partially exempt, you do still have to publish an accessibility statement," says Abi.

Organisations such as primary and secondary schools or nurseries are partially exempt from the accessibility regulations (except for the content people need in order to use their services, for example, a form that lets you outline school meal preferences), but those institutions should be aware they do still have to publish an accessibility statement.

"With schools now using digital learning platforms and great immersive tools, it's important that all learners can access and engage with these materials. But this isn't just about new technology, this is about making sure letters and basic documents are also accessible to all parents and pupils."

Do you need help with your accessibility statement? AbilityNet can help. Contact us to discuss your needs.

 

Accessibility is a journey, not a destination

Abi presented a session at BETT outlining the basics of the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations, including what is exempt from the regulations. She also covered tips for what to include in an accessibility statement, and noted that it's key to remember that accessibility should be thought of as a journey, not a destination. She highlighted AbilityNet's My Study My Way tool, the student inclusion platform for Higher Education, developed by AbilityNet and powered by Clear Talents. The tool was developed to help universities and colleges to create an inclusive education environment as part of AbilityNet's vision of a digital world where higher education is equally accessible to all.

Abi also shared the WCAG 2.1: Accessibility Principles - referred to as 'POUR', after the initials of the titles of each of the principles that Digital Content is required to be:

  • Perceivable: Content should be perceivable 
  • Operable: Users should be able to operate webpages
  • Understandable: Webpages should be understandable
  • Robust: Pages should be displayed similarly on different browsers

Other points Abi detailed in the presentation included the importance of being aware that third party content on your site that is under the control of the public body is not exempt from the regulations. 

"Anyone supplying digital content or tools into the public sector needs to know about accessibility and how they support it in their solutions. It is a question customers are going to increasing ask about and consider as part of their purchasing decision. Providing accessible and inclusive solutions is not only the right thing to do, it's good for business," says Abi.

You can find more of Abi's advice about supplying and buying accessible products and services in our free webinar playback Procurement: Checking external products are accessible.

The Digital Accessibility Challenge

Watch Abi's presentation about digital accessibility from BETT 2020:

Access Abi's slides from her accessibility presentation at BETT 2020 on Slideshare.

 

 

Video credit: BETT London 2020

HE and the public sector podcast

With speakers from Barclays, Microsoft and beyond, you might be interested in this episode of AbilityNet's podcast The TechShare Procast - the episode focuses on HE and Public Sector regulations. Download a transcript of the episode.

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Further resources