Quick guide

Getting started with accessibility and inclusion

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Discover how your organisation can help to reduce and overcome the barriers faced by learners with special educational needs.

What is accessibility?

Accessibility involves designing systems to optimise access. Being inclusive is about giving equal access and opportunities to everyone wherever possible. In education this involves reducing and overcoming the barriers that might occur in:

  • Digital content
  • Teaching and learning activities
  • Assessments

The social model of disability suggests that the society or environment is disabling the individual rather than their impairment or difference. For example, not providing captions on videos will disadvantage anyone watching in a noisy environment, but lack of captions disadvantages deaf and hard of hearing people all the time.

Read our guide on video captioning and accessibility regulations for more detail.

Accessibility is about designing out any unnecessary barriers that make it harder to engage and take part in everyday activities. As with video captions, technology is a very useful tool in levelling the field.

Regulations introduced in 2018 now mean that there is a legal requirement for public sector bodies to meet certain accessibility standards. Our page on meeting accessibility regulations provides a range of resources and advice to help you understand and implement the new government legislation.

What is assistive technology?

This is a term used for technology that assists someone to do something they would otherwise be unable to do or have difficulty with. Some assistive technologies are also recognised as productivity tools because they make things easier or more efficient.

For example, a screen reader will enable a blind user to access online content, whilst text to speech will make it easier for a dyslexic student to read on-screen.

Join the Assistive Technology JiscMail list to connect with other assistive technology practitioners in further and higher education.

What your organisation can do

An accessible organisation is one that:

  • Fosters independence for all students
  • Has enhanced productivity
  • Has reduced support costs
  • Has improved engagement, retention and achievement

Accessibility is not just about creating accessible websites or documents. To do it well, accessibility needs to be incorporated into all aspects of an organisation’s structure:

  • Strategy and leadership – a shared vision that supports organisations buy-in will ensure everyone understands their role in improving provision (see our digital inclusion toolkit for senior leaders)
  • Marketing – the readability of an organisation’s website and how easy you make it for them to attend open days can be a decision-maker for some users
  • Procurement – taking different access needs into account at the outset when purchasing digital systems can reduce support costs because users will be able to access these systems independently
  • Teaching, learning and assessment – inclusive teaching is more engaging and benefits all learners - find out more about creating an inclusive learner journey
  • Libraries – play a crucial role within education provision, they can provide content in different formats and promote independent learning
  • Assistive technology and productivity tools – there are a range of free and commercial tools that can both remove barriers and help all users (both staff and students) overcome existing ones
  • Mobile devices – facilitating users’ own devices through a flexible and inclusive infrastructure can enable and extend creative and collaborative learning into new communities and spaces
  • Staff development – inclusive digital capabilities training for all staff and an ethos of support and collaboration will create an accessible and inclusive organisation

Further information

This guide is made available under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND).