Senior managers must ensure that their organisation follows best practice for accessibility. They set an example for the whole organisation and their policies directly affect the experience of disabled learners.
There is a legal obligation for organisations to ensure that no-one is disadvantaged because of a disability.
What you can do
Set the right example
Show commitment to accessibility so staff will understand that it's everyone’s responsibility. Ensure that relevant teams co-operate - for example text to speech access to textbooks will require input from the library, the IT/network team, subject leads and learning support teams.
There are often examples of good practice within organisations which are not widely known about. Sharing this good practice can help all staff to improve the accessibility of their work.
Research conducted in 2008-9 resulted in the 12 steps towards embedding the inclusive use of technology report. This outlines steps that you can take to improve accessible practice throughout your organisation. Despite the age of the report, the principles are still very sound.
Create inclusive policies
There are a range of benefits for organisations that adopt policies that can support accessibility and inclusion and an accessibility evaluation and signposting service is available for all Jisc members as part of their subscription.
Equality and diversity policy
This should be accompanied by an action plan detailing how each department will ensure its services and environment are inclusive. It should work alongside the other policies to ensure that accessible practice happens across the organisation.
This must be widely available and ensure that students with disabilities are not discriminated against in the admissions process. The one possible exception to this rule is where competence standards are set by professional bodies.
Even if this is the case, the organisation has a duty to check that the professional bodies’ requirements are fair and appropriate and to challenge them if necessary. The prospectus, marketing materials, and application forms and processes need to be barrier-free.
Assessment, learning, teaching and quality assurance
This should facilitate and promote the use of technology to support learning, teaching and assessment, and highlight the potential benefits of doing so. It should specify minimum accessibility standards for learning materials – for example, the use of the notes field in presentation slides.
The accessibility of current assessment processes should be reviewed and where the organisation uses external awarding bodies, policies should exist for maximising the use of exam papers in accessible formats. Higher Education institutions should look at providing inclusive learner experiences through the learner journey.
Policy on adjustments to academic processes for disabled students
Academic processes like assessments, practicals, field courses and presentations may pose challenges to disabled learners. Wherever possible there should be:
- A review of current practice to ensure the mainstream processes are as inclusive as possible
- Awareness of tools and technologies that could make current practice more accessible to disabled learners (for example use of mobile apps on field courses).
In exceptional circumstances there may need to be an adjustment to academic processes but the aim should always be to maximise the mainstream experience. The balance between adapted requirements versus those which are distinct is a policy decision that needs advance consideration.
IT provision and usage policies
These should demonstrate the provision of a range of technologies and encourage the use of in-built accessibility tools. For financial reasons it may be appropriate to promote free software and/or open source alternatives.
There should also be an organisational policy on assistive technologies, many of which are of use to everyone so where possible, they should be networked and available for all users. As a minimum, mind mapping and text-to-speech (with high-quality voices) should be available across the network. Many tools can be utilised from memory sticks without the need for installation - IT policy should encourage the use of such technologies in areas of the network where such tools are not already available.
Many accessibility problems are the result of poor procurement policy where organisations buy into inaccessible systems. This can create significant support costs. The procurement policy should specify accessibility in the products under review and ideally test with disabled users before purchase.
Working with others
Make sure that appropriate staff training is available.
Teaching and learning staff
Teaching staff will need training on producing and delivering accessible learning resources.
IT staff need to be aware of the accessibility features that are built into operating systems and ensure that they are enabled. They should also know about the free and open source software that may be useful to all learners, but particularly disabled learners. They need to ensure suitable high-quality synthetic voices are available as defaults on the system. Free voices are available in England, Scotland and Wales.
Print impaired learners (up to 10% of the population have dyslexia or visual impairment) can potentially benefit from books in an electronic format; library staff need to know how to obtain these. See our guide to obtaining textbooks in alternative formats.
Disability staff need to be aware of the accessibility potential in mainstream software and hardware, for example the accessibility features in Windows or Mac OS or in mobile devices like phones and tablets. They may also find it useful to know about free and open source assistive technologies. They should be aware of the inbuilt accessibility features in the different e-book formats – for example magnification reflow and colour changes in pdf files, or the wide range of accessibility options in electronic publication (EPUB) files.
Marketing and admissions
Staff responsible for marketing and admissions need to know how to produce accessible documents and may benefit from guidance on web accessibility.
Under UK law, it is the governing body of an organisation which will be held responsible if that organisation is challenged. Governors of every education organisation need to ensure that:
- Accessibility is on the agenda of all high-level committees where appropriate
- The organisation’s strategic aims should feature inclusive principles
- Senior managers have specific duties to progress towards more inclusive mainstream provision across the organisation.