Digital accessibility has been at the forefront of many institutional discussions following the introduction of the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 which came in to effect on the 23rd of September 2018 setting out accessibility standards that must be met by all Public Sector Bodies including universities https://www.gov.uk/guidance/accessibility-requirements-for-public-sector-websites-and-apps#accessibility-standards
This significant new legal requirement presents new challenges for institutions but also considerable opportunities. In recognition of the importance of the issue Peter Hartley and I facilitated an engaging and highly informative discussion on the topic at the SEDA Autumn Conference 2019 in Leeds*. Using a concept map (see image below**) as a stimulant to guide discussion attendees were invited to reflect on the new regulations in relation to technology, the curriculum and their respective roles. In a wide ranging conversation colleagues considered the steps that can be taken to ensure that digital content and resources are usable for all students and staff, including those with disabilities and specific learning differences. Questions raised included whether the regulations applied to VLEs and what actions institutions are taking in response to the new act.
Among attendees at the session was keynote speaker Dr Mark Glynn from Dublin City University. Mark highlighted that the UK was at the forefront of implementing legislation in response to the EU Web Accessibility Directive that had come into effect in 2016. It was confirmed that the regulations require all pubic facing websites – including downloadable documents contained on those websites – to be accessible in line with a standard based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.1 (AA standard). Virtual learning environments (VLEs) were also confirmed to be in-scope recognising that content on VLEs typically undergo substantial revision each year. The regulations for website or content on intranets substantially revised after September 2018 came into effect on the 23rd of September 2019. The rules extend to mobile apps in June 2021. A key feature of the new regulations is a requirement for institutions to include an accessibility statement on websites/VLEs highlighting any known accessibility issues, providing appropriate alternative options and providing a means for users to report inaccessible content.
Discussion moved on to consider accessibility in the context of video recordings with questions about whether the regulations extend to this type of content. The short answer was yes but an exemption for live audio and pre-recorded content is in place until 23rd September 2020. Some institutions are attempting to get ahead of this by implementing closed captioning. This can be achieved through engagement with paid services or through use of automatic speech recognition which is available natively in some digital platforms. It was flagged that the accuracy of automatically generated captions can be as low as 70% and that some human correction may be required to make captions usable.
Many institutions have already taken proactive steps to ensure that teaching approaches and materials, including digital content, is accessible. Anglia Ruskin have developed an extensive set of guidance to promote inclusive practice which is available from their website: https://aru.ac.uk/anglia-learning-and-teaching/good-teaching-practice-and-innovation/approaches-to-learning-and-teaching/inclusive-learning-and-teaching
The University of Sussex has developed and made available under a Creative Commons licence a Digital Accessibility Toolkit designed to assist teaching staff to create accessible resources, check existing materials for accessibility issues and raise awareness of the availability of different tools to support individuals with different accessibility needs. The toolkit is available at: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/tel/accessibility
It was apparent that Institutions were responding to the new regulations in different ways but all in attendance agreed that this was a very important topic and that as developers it was critical we have a clear understanding of the requirements in order to fully support colleagues to embed accessibility in practice.
*Please note this post was written before the lock down
**For a full copy of this concept map in Cmap, pdf or jpg please contact Peter Hartley
Dr David Walker and Professor Peter Hartley
Co-chairs, SEDA Conference and Events Committee