Thinking about Digital Accessibility
This blog was originally shared on the Enhance website and can be downloaded as a Word document on their Awarded Practice wall. Feel free to head on over there and add your comments to help develop the resource!
Accessible websites and apps, along with a full accessibility statement for public sector organisations is now required by law under the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations 2018. Whilst it may not be directly relevant to your role, we can take the considerations listed in the Government guidance for publishing an effective accessibility statement, as a starting point to thinking about accessibility. Let’s consider:
- Legacy Content. Older content that may be technically exempt. Should we revisit older content to make it accessible if it’s possible?
- Disproportionate Burden. This is an assessment as to whether the burden of adapting the content outweighs the benefits. Is there a way to improve your practice so that you reduce barriers?
- Live + Organic Action plan. For aspects that are partially compliant or not compliant with the international WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility standard; standards the Accessibility Regulations are based on. Compliance isn’t static and continual committed development is encouraged.
- Do you have alternative content for some things that may prove inaccessible?
- Who people should contact to report any accessibility issues. Could users (learners, practitioners, staff) co-create accessibility adaptions and policies?
Be clear on the why for any new (and indeed; old) process’ and help your team to understand the purpose for each. Setting out first principles including demystifying jargon and meta language, along with explicitly explaining the reasons why you’re doing what you’re doing and the way you’re doing it, will reduce practitioners’ cognitive load. Crowd source accessibility practices by co-creating them with your team: ask them what makes content, processes and communications most accessible to them. Working together like this will give the team ownership of it and will give individual team member’s an opportunity to have a voice. Develop team protocols for working online to ensure people know where and how to access different content. Additionally, give the team access to training and/or coaching support if needed in order reduce stress or digital-overwhelm and ensure consistency. Whilst the following notes are under the ‘class’ heading, they could just as easily be applied to your team community.
Considering accessibility in the learning space can at times be a daunting task when you already have many other things to consider when devising your lesson plan. However, utilising a framework (such as SCULPT; developed by Worcestershire Council) can help you to quickly and simply focus your accessibility considerations whether they are online, hybrid or face to face environments, and whether asynchronous or synchronous. Check how your content looks on a range of devices including mobile phones and tablets. How does it look visually? Is it readable? Can it be navigated easily and intuitively? Empower learners to use Immersive Reader (on most MS Office software and other platforms for example, ThingLink and Wakelet) during class and autonomously for self-study. Immersive Reader allows learners to change the size, font and background of a text, as well as the option to view syllables, highlight specific word types, or even translate (including a picture dictionary). If you’re not sure what accessibility adaptions are available on a digital platform you wish to use, read their accessibility statement. Bear in mind that many platforms are continually developing the accessibility of their content and as such, something you may deem unsuitable now, may develop and improve in future. If you use MS Office software, bookmark the MS accessibility page that contains a host of accessibility tips for each of their programs. Consider the number of different platforms you use in your learning spaces. Give adequate time and support for their introduction into the classroom so your learners have time to feel comfortable with the technology you’re using. Before implementing, ask yourself:
- Is the platform relevant and useful to your learners’ lives?
- Does it help develop their digital literacies?
- Does it have clear pedagogical purpose?
Lastly, before using a digital platform in the classroom, familiarise yourself with their accessibility statement and what accessible adaptions are available to the content creator. For ideas and inspiration, check out IncludEdu, a website which allows you to access a menu of ‘Assistive Tech’ tools categorised by learning need and hardware access.