TechDis Senior Management Briefing 2

Accessibility in the Mainstream – Roles and Responsibilities
Accessibility, Disability or Impairment
It is easy to assume that a disability or is more or less the same as an impairment. However, the extent to which an individual is disabled may have more to do with the nature of their environment than the nature of their impairment. For example, within an online community (such as a discussion list, email or chat forum) it is impossible to know whether a participant is blind, deaf or motor impaired because the environment is accessible to a wide range of individual needs. Similarly, a wheelchair user is disabled in some buildings but entirely independent in others. Within an educational context this richer and more flexible understanding of disability in terms of ‘access to and inclusion within’ an organisation’s activities is important; it offers all those working with learners the opportunity to explore alternative approaches and technologies which can fully enable a learner with particular accessibility requirements, in order to help them fully participate in the learning experience. More significantly, accessible practices can benefit all learners not just those with disabilities or learning difficulties, by promoting a culture of responsiveness and flexibility. It is arguable that one of the most effective ways of meeting the anticipatory duty in the Disability Discrimination Act is to give staff the skills and training to respond effectively and creatively to learner needs. For teaching staff this might mean delivering the learning experience a different way. For technical staff it may mean setting up alternative profiles. For library staff it may mean finding resources in an electronic format. Accessibility issues are therefore relevant for all staff; they impinge on the quality of service provided, irrespective of whether staff work directly with disabled learners or not.

Roles, Responsibilities and the Learner Life Cycle
Training and guidance in accessibility is most effective when it targets specific roles and responsibilities within an organisation. Different roles work in different contexts and draw on different resources. To understand how accessibility impinges on a learner it is worth considering it from the perspective of a ‘learner life cycle’ through an organisation. Marketing The materials produced by the marketing department may provide explicit information about the accessibility of the organisation, or unintended messages by omission. The design and presentation of the materials may by itself give messages about the accessibility awareness of the organisation. Admissions and Induction The extent to which this process offers support for learner needs will reflect on organisational support for all learners. Disabled learners can be encouraged to disclose their disability where a culture of acceptance, accommodation and positivity is evident.

TechDis, The Higher Education Academy Building, Innovation Way, York Science Park, York YO10 5BR. Tel: 01904 717580 Fax: 01904 717505.
© TechDis 2006

TechDis is an advisory service of JISC, the Joint Information Systems Committee

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Teaching and Learning The readiness of the teaching and learning staff to understand learner needs and provide responsive, varied learning experiences has a major impact on all learners and a disproportionate benefit for those with disabilities. Library and Learning Resources Independent learning can be the most challenging part of a course for learners with disabilities. Appropriate support through assistive technology, alternative formats, supportive staff and appropriate systems are essential to develop genuinely independent learners.

Examinations and Assessment Making the appropriate accommodations for a learner may involve the examinations team, teaching and learning staff, learner support staff and technical staff all contributing to a solution in different ways. Given the range of ways in which the learner’s experiences are influenced by an array of staff roles and functions it is imperative that any organisation has a holistic approach to accessibility. Accessibility needs to be owned by all staff as a part of the mainstream culture; a niche culture of disability belonging to one or two roles is an insufficient basis to meet the needs of the developing disability equality legislation.

“Accessibility needs to be owned by all staff as a part of the mainstream culture”
Technical Teams Technical teams have contradictory issues which will require negotiation and balance. Most learners (and indeed staff) want a familiar desktop with their own preferences stored wherever they log in; all want a secure and reliable system and many – especially disabled learners – may need to personalise the system. In addition, disabled learners may require specific hardware and software, which can often raise installation, networking, support and licensing issues (see separate briefing accompanying this pack). Different technical teams (such as Audio Visual staff and lab technicians) work alongside teaching staff and learners in different ways. Learner Support Staff A key interface between the learner and the rest of the organisation, these staff are critical in helping to draw together the other services disabled learners require. Their expertise may be in personal support but for full effectiveness they need to engage with teaching and learning staff, technical staff, library and learning resource staff and others, in an increasingly sophisticated technological environment. Pastoral Care Systems Despite the immense variety of pastoral care approaches in the sector, the issues in supporting disabled learners are common and widespread; data protection and confidentiality can be compromised because the legislation regards disclosure about a disability to any member of staff as disclosure to the organisation. How do you balance this legal requirement to share learner disclosures with the legal requirement to confidentiality? Furthermore, disclosure is voluntary yet ignorance of a learner’s need may not legally excuse an organisation from claims of discriminatory practice.
© TechDis 2006

Conflicts, Compromise and Complementarity
Different staff groups have different ways of meeting learner needs and each has expertise contributing to the learner’s experience. This has the potential to create complementary services. However, without effective steer from senior management it can also lead to significant conflicts and contradictions, as illustrated below: Case Study One: Teaching and learning staff have been trained in using free software to create online interactive quizzes which give instant feedback to learners. These have been uploaded to the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and proved very popular with learners, especially those with specific learning difficulties. The network manager realises that the quizzes produced by the software are not accessible to screen readers and do not conform to web accessibility guidelines. Fearful of potential litigation, the network manager removes the quizzes from the network. The teaching staff, irritated by the waste of time and training, stop producing materials for the VLE. Most disgruntled is the tutor who has fully included a blind learner only to be told inappropriate criteria have not been met. Also affected are learner support workers who receive a series of complaints from dyslexic learners who benefited from the software and now feel they have been discriminated against.

“For some organisations and some technical teams this may mark a significant departure from the traditional role of the technical team in keeping hardware and software working”
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Case Study Two: The head of the learning resource centre is trying to plan the provision of alternative formats for key textbooks. Negotiations with publishers or transcription services can take several months to organise so the learner support department is approached to give an idea of numbers needed and the courses they study. The head of learner support is unwilling to give even the overall numbers of learners involved, let alone specific requirements, in case they breach data protection legislation or compromise confidentiality. Conclusions In both these examples the conflicts were created not by any unwillingness to serve the needs of disabled learners but by territoriality; isolated decision making without a holistic overview steered and supported by senior management. In reality, the accessibility approaches of one area of the organisation will impinge on those of another – for better or worse. It is important there is a clear, shared understanding of the approach the senior management team will support. Given the inherent tensions (arising from different skills and experiences) and the fact that disabled people themselves would often disagree on the best solution to a particular problem, the most significant role senior managers can play is to facilitate communication and encourage compromise.

“If accessibility has not been considered in a strategic, ‘whole organisation’ way, it will be difficult not to simply make up policies as you go along”
rubber-stamping exercise. Q The communication is well documented. Q The communication is communicated – to illustrate how accessibility issues have been tackled and encouraging others to get involved in the process. Conclusions In the first TechDis Senior Management Briefing the potential to incorporate accessibility into existing policies was explored. In order to create a holistic approach to accessibility it is worth different areas of the organisation creating draft accessibility policies which are then compared to identify areas of conflict, dependency or complementarity. The resulting conclusions can then feedback into existing policies or create new ones depending on what is most appropriate. Anecdotal evidence from out of court settlements suggests that litigation under the DDA has been more related to an absence of policies than from poor policies. If accessibility has not been considered in a strategic, ‘whole organisation’ way, it will be difficult not to simply make up policies as you go along, resulting in potentially poor practice and a higher exposure to litigation. The self assessment resource accompanying this briefing provides an opportunity to evaluate your current progress in embedding accessibility across different organisational roles.

“Accessibility issues are relevant for all staff; they impinge on the quality of service provided, irrespective of whether staff work directly with disabled learners or not”
Communication and Compromise
There are many situations where there is no right answer. For example, some disabled learners want assistive software clearly labelled on computers or supported computers grouped together so they can find them easily. Others prefer them unlabelled for the sake of discretion. Compromises are inevitable but it is important to invite all the stakeholders to contribute to the final decision. In a Learning Resource Centre (LRC), where to place the computers with assistive technology will have implications for the LRC staff, the network manager, IT Technicians, learners support staff and the learners themselves. How the appropriate communication takes place would be unique to every organisation but the following points would be important: Q The communication is timely. Q The communication is genuine, not simply a
© TechDis 2006

“The design and presentation of the materials may by itself give messages about the accessibility awareness of the organisation”

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Technical Accessibility Challenges for Organisations
Good quality technical teams are at the heart of an organisation’s accessibility strategies because they exert a direct influence on: Q The use of e-resources by teaching staff. Q The extent to which learners can access materials at any time or place. Q The extent to which learners can adapt materials to suit their own specific needs. Q The effectiveness with which learners access other services – for example assistive technologies or additional support. For many FE organisations, the world of e-learning is relatively new and the concept of disability equality duty may be newer still. In this emerging world, technical teams have an increasingly significant role to play in understanding accessibility issues and playing a full part with others in meeting learner needs. For some organisations and some technical teams this may mark a significant departure from the traditional role of the technical team in keeping hardware and software working.

Interfacing - between the learner and the services they need
A key area, for a learner with accessibility needs, is to know how they can be more independent, what resources are available, how they can adapt them, who they need to speak to and how they can contact them. TechDis and AbilityNet have identified several areas of good practice that are often neglected because they fall between role areas. These include: Q The effectiveness of accessibility guidance on the learning platform – for example, how views can be personalised or how changes can be saved. Q The effectiveness of learner inductions in highlighting accessibility options in the organisation’s IT infrastructure. Q The effectiveness with which the assistive technology available to learners is advertised and promoted. Q The effectiveness with which existing or free assistive technologies (e.g. alternative document views, document handwriting recognition or text to speech systems) are made available or promoted to learners and those who teach or support them.

“Technical teams have an increasingly significant role to play”
Pilot research by TechDis with network managers from a range of colleges and technical support personnel from regional and national support agencies has indicated a number of areas where technical teams have the expertise to enhance accessibility but are not always used effectively because: Q Although it is within their skill base it is not in their portfolio of responsibilities, or, Q Their contribution would be a specialist input to a wider process that needs driving from elsewhere. We have identified three areas where opportunities exist to improve accessibility for all learners. In each of these areas there are technical issues but the technical team are only part of the solution. We believe that these areas are often neglected because no single person has them on their job description. Together, these areas can add significant accessibility to the learner’s experience.

Integrating – security needs with personalisation needs
Security is often regarded as one of the biggest risks to a network. Unfortunately this can sometimes result in a system that is so tightly locked down that users who need different hardware, software, colour schemes or fonts find it very difficult to access materials. The security issues need to be balanced with the alternative risks of litigation if the organisation is unable to make reasonable adjustments for disabled learners accessing the network. TechDis and AbilityNet have produced some guidance on this which accompanies the advice for technical support teams. For further information on this guidance please see the accompanying briefing or visit

“The security issues need to be balanced with the alternative risks of litigation if the organisation is unable to make reasonable adjustments for disabled learners accessing the network”

© TechDis 2006

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Populating – the learning environment with resources
Different organisations have different approaches to populating their learning platforms; some buy in materials, others develop in house with technical experts, but in most organisations the key to making resources available is the lecturer or teacher uploading handouts, PowerPoint’s, quizzes and activities. Digital resources like these are inherently more flexible than traditional paper based resources. However, to encourage staff to create electronic resources there needs to be: Q A learning platform that is easy to use with limited technical skill. Q Access from offsite to enable materials to be uploaded from home. Q Training in a range of simple techniques that can enhance the learner experience (see the Creation of Learning Materials section of the TechDis Website: learningmaterials). Q Training in accessibility appropriate to the skill levels of the staff.

“Digital resources are inherently more flexible than traditional paper based resources”
Whilst quality control on the learning platform is potentially desirable these resources should not be subject to more stringent checks than traditional teaching resources, otherwise staff will be discouraged from creating digital resources. Where staff exploit the digital opportunities available to them (images, sound, video etc) there may be significant technical issues relating to file size or bandwidth issues. Input from the technical support team can be crucial to support staff exploring new approaches. Conclusion Technical support teams are often key to effective teaching and learning and can play a major role in leveraging maximum advantage from the hardware and software systems of the organisation. To draw out these benefits the technical support teams need to be involved strategically across the organisation contributing to teaching and learning strategies, accessibility strategies etc. This may have training implications for technical staff, both “soft skill” training such as disability awareness, e-learning approaches etc and “hard skill” training such as technical issues with assistive software.

© TechDis 2006

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Further References
JISC TechDis Resources Q Role Related Accessibility Guidance - Q Creation of Learning Materials Topic, particularly useful for teaching staff Q Inclusive Learning and Teaching – ILT and Disabled Learners. Joint JISC TechDis, Becta and JISC Regional Support Centres publication - Q TechDis Article – Free software for Readback and Mapping - TechDis Community Site (to access these resources use ‘guest’ login) Q Training for e-Learning Technical Developers - Q Training for Learning Resource Centre Staff –

Recommended Resources from Other Agencies Strategically Focussed Resources
ALI - Adult Learning Inspectorate ALI aims to be a world class quality assessment business, raising standards of education and training for young people and adults through inspecting and reporting on the learning provision they receive. Q Greater Expectations: Provision for learners with disabilities and/or learning difficulties Becta - British Educational Communication & Technologies Agency Becta is the UK agency which supports all four UK education departments in their strategic ICT developments. Q The role of ICT in school and college improvement. This slideshow introduces some of Becta’s current work in developing self review frameworks for e-maturity. E-maturity will be a significant contributor to accessibility in an organisation. JISC infoNet JISC infoNet promotes the effective strategic planning, implementation and management of information and learning technology to support the core activities of learning, teaching, research and business processes. Q JISC infoNet Material on Understanding Your Organisation Q Change Management infoKit - Scottish Disability Team Through the delivery of specialised training and the provision of an informative website, the Scottish Disability Team aims to improve provision for disabled students across Higher Education in Scotland. Q The Disability Equality Duty: Implications and Opportunities for ICT provision in Higher Education Institutions and Colleges of Further Education - Though specifically written for the Scottish framework, the principles and practice laid out are relevant to all four UK countries.

© TechDis 2006

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Operationally Focussed Resources
AbilityNet A national charity offering a comprehensive range of services related to the use of information technology with people with all types of disabling conditions. Q List of Factsheets: Q List of Skillsheets: The Community Learning Resource website supports the adult and community learning (ACL) sector. It provides information, advice and guidance to those working in the sector and is designed to complement the rollout of effective e-learning and related support into ACL. Q Guidance on technology and disability - BRITE Initiative A Scottish service with a range of useful Internet resources relevant for teaching, learning and support roles. Q Web developer resources - Q Ways to create an inclusive classroom - LSN - Learning and Skills Network The Learning and Skills Network is an independent not-for-profit organisation delivering quality improvement and staff development programmes to support specific government initiatives. Q Disability Discrimination Act: Publications – wide range of role related and theme related briefings Q Disability Discrimination Act: taking the work forward - Open University - Inclusive Teaching Website An excellent resource for teachers, specialist staff and those responsible for additional support. Q Skill - National Bureau for Students With Disabilities Skill is a national charity promoting opportunities for young people and adults with any kind of disability in post-16 education, training and employment across the UK. Q Skills for Access A comprehensive guide to creating accessible multimedia for e-learning. Q SCONUL - Society of College, National and University libraries SCONUL promotes excellence in library services in higher education and national libraries across the UK and Ireland. Q SCONUL Taskforce – Access for users with disabilities Teachability Project The Teachability project at the University of Strathclyde promotes the creation of an Accessible Curriculum For Students With Disabilities. Q
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Looking Ahead - TechDis Senior Management Briefing 3

Transition arrangements partners, processes and funding issues
Dissemination Date - Autumn 2006 This briefing will contain information on the following: Q Country specific information on the issues surrounding transition for learners into, out of and within Further Education. Q Focussed information for the four countries on good practice in planned transition. Q The funding implications of planned transition. For further information on the Senior Management Briefing Series please visit

The Higher Education Academy Building Innovation Way York Science Park York YO10 5BR Tel: 01904 717580 Fax: 01904 717505
© TechDis 2006
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