Within 24 hours I’ve had not one but two encounters with accessibility issues. Both demonstrated negativity towards the concepts of reasonable adjustment and alternative versions in relation to teaching and learning resources. This is my resulting rant and reflection – please check out the links at the end. You just never know, one day the thread of your reality may be cut without warning!
Some background: ten years ago I worked in community education and set up a number of computer training rooms for people with disabilities; the work was funded with short term project grants – which is indicative of the reality for the socially disabled – where support and training is dependent on charities and the kindness of strangers. I am continually reminded that the situation with regard to respect and consideration cannot be said to have significantly improved over the past decade.
Over a year ago the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) was subsumed into the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). There is growing debate over whether this has been in the best interests of people who struggle with seeing, hearing, mobility or cognitive impairments (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7643844.stm)
Why is this relevant here? Well, as a public institution, the University of Lincoln has a duty to ensure it can demonstrate proactivity in anticipating barriers to access. However, a recognised need to be inclusive is not enough to ensure institutional change. Across the HE sector, disability support units are rarely integrated into teaching and learning units and the locus of disability awareness continues to exist on the periphery. For me accessibility is about removing barriers to participation and engagement. That means a holistic attitude towards the creation of accessible content. It’s not something that can be bolted on either as an afterthought or because someone has had to request an alternative version.
Staff should also visit Accessibility in Learning produced by JISC and TechDis in conjuction with the Quality Improvement Agency (QIA). This new online resource looks at eight categories of users; those who have difficulty seeing, hearing, understanding, concentrating, manipulating things, communicating with others, accessing text and who are dyslexic – and provides practical guidelines practical guidelines for making learning materials more accessible.
The information is out there; the responsiblity for acting on it is down to the individual.
If you still need convincing read some of these accounts from students accessing higher education. Go to ALERT (University of Bournemouth) and DART (Loughborough University) and the most recent JISC funded research at LExDis (University of Southampton) to sample the student experience first hand.