The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 came into effect on 23rd September. It’s now a legal requirement for all digital resources supporting teaching and learning to be accessible.
Designing for Diverse Learners is a re-purposing of the UK government’s six posters on accessible design to create a single page set of criteria covering the principles of digital accessibility. These are for anyone who writes emails, creates word documents or builds presentations with text and images. Following the guidance anticipates and removes potential barriers to access. Based on years of experience of supporting inclusive practice, working with Jisc TechDis (sadly no longer with us) and with knowledge derived from teaching a range of users of assistive technologies, Lee Fallin and I have collated the basics. These include font size, colour and contrast, justification, link text and alternative formats. If everyone creating digital content follows this advice it would make a huge difference.
In the meantime, an ex-colleague from the University of Lincoln, Marcus Elliott (now at NTU) has begun to extend the Diversity poster, and shared the output in a blog post Thinking about Diverse Learners. The work demonstrates the value of a creative commons culture of reuse and repurpose so all credit to Marcus for showing the value of an open approach in this way.
When it comes to digital accessibility, the NHS are worth exploring. They’ve had a Digital First policy for nearly a decade, spelt out in their Digital Data and Information Strategy.
When I co-wrote Social Work in a Digital Society back in 2011, it was driven by the need for more digitally inclusive health care practice. at a time when the government were moving to put all their information and welfare services online. Back in the day I provided sessions for social work students designed to raise awareness of how service users, often already marginalised and disempowered, are expected to have the digital access and literacies to negotiate an online benefits system. Since then, the NHS have bought in online GP appointments and medical checks from home with digital systems for online consultations.
Universal Credit, designed to incorporate all payments into one, is the government’s move to a digital first provision of welfare. This week there’s been calls for stopping it. Voices include Sadiq Khan, Lord Mayor of London and Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury on the grounds of it leaving too many people worse off. The parameters of digital exclusion mirror existing discrimination yet nowhere in this week’s media has there been mention of universal credit being a welfare system managed online.
Digital accessibility is about all these things. Digital literacies are not only about readable font and good colour and contrast. They’re about digitally inclusive practice too.
My eyes are tired. Too many evenings and weekends doing data analysis using s software package which does not adequately respond to magnification. I’ve been drafting the thesis chapters to build the framework within which the analysis is located as well as writing blog posts like this one calling for change. It’s a lot of screen time on top of the day job.
For me, tired eyes equates to an increasing reliance on clear digital text. Too often I find unresponsive design and zoom controls being prevented from working effectively. Design trumps accessibility. I’ve said this before and will be saying it again. The steps needed to make digital content accessible are not difficult.
Seven key principles guide the NHS in all it does. They are underpinned by core NHS values which have been derived from extensive discussions with staff, patients and the public. Marcus is spot on to add these to the Design for Diversity work.
Lee and I have ambitions to have the poster printed and displayed above every photocopier alongside the CLA requirements. To have cards which are on everyone’s notice board or wall. We want to see an institutional digital accessibility strategy based on the principles of the Web Accessibility Initiative; to build time for developing inclusive practice into the work allocation process, and a greater general awareness of how digital accessibility matters, so much, to everyone.
Because digital inclusion isn’t only about people with disabilities. It’s about temporary disablement through broken bones or sensory impairment. It’s about a socially democratic internet. When my uveitis flares up I need steroid medication. The treatment enlarges the pupils of my eyes, letting in too much light and making me see through a white fog. With resisable. responsive design and clear readable font with good contrast, I can continue to work in digital environments, Without it I can’t. I’m disabled by the technology which in theory should be creating a more inclusive user experience.
My concern is the new UK legislation will be seen as a set of tick boxes, without the underpinning knowledge of what digital exclusion is really like and the consequences of inaccessible digital design for learners. The student experience should be at the heart of higher education and the new act is an opportunity for change, to ensure digital accessibility is a supported literacy, alongside reading and writing, in order to make the increasingly digital society in which we live and work an inclusive one too.
There is now a law which supports this. Ros Walker from the University of Stirling has written a post for the ALT blog titled Important New /Accessibility Regulations. Its a valuable post well worth reading. I have just one query. Ros writes ‘This work would largely need to be addressed jointly by service providers within the institution such as disability services, web development and IT.’ I would add learning development and academic practice too.
With my colleague Patrick Lynch, we’ve built inclusion into the learning design module of the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PCAP) at the University of Hull. I facilitate a digital inclusion session for our Professional Practice in Higher Education Teaching and Learning module for postgraduates who research and teach. There’s also a workshop in the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Academic Professional as Development Framework (APDF) run by Lee and myself.
Promoting digitally inclusive practice as integral to the enhancement of learning and teaching is the way forward and there is now a law which supports this.
The future is looking bright.
My hope is it’s looking more accessible too.