Last week I was lucky to have the time to attend two sessions of the Association of Learning Technologists East of England’s Embracing Accessibility series. Rather than do one long session they ran one hour sessions daily from Tuesday to Friday. I both presented and attended the sessions on Tuesday and Friday.
Integrating Tools To Support Accessibility
Tuesday’s session was titled ‘Integrating tools to support accessibility’. I did a presentation I described as ‘Beyond the accessibility checker’. I wanted to highlight that we can have the digital tools in place to support accessibility but how do we get buy in from academic staff. At ARU, they have always done a huge amount of work ensuring learning materials are accessible and inclusive, through policy, use of accessible templates and guidance that promotes the use of accessibility checkers in Microsoft products. To further enhance our accessibility we have also invested in Blackboard Ally that works as both an accessibility checker and to provide alternative formats of documents to students and staff. Engaged staff with an interest in accessibility do a fantastic job but what about the rest? When we first started using Ally we saw a rapid improvement in accessibility scores but I am worried that this will now plateau.
At the session, we touched on the importance of getting staff to see the value of accessibility rather than just trying to be something that we ‘have to do’ but we also discussed that accessibility should be part of the conversation at appraisal. Most people. like us, had developed some sort of communication plan linked either to the introduction of Ally or around the 23 September date for the implementation of the Digital Accessibility Regulations.
Although no-one had the magic answer to solving this problem it was useful to share what other people were doing and that many of us were in the same boat. I might not have got any particular new ideas from the session but I do feel re-invigorated to try and reach more staff. So I predict a flurry of activity of making resources, writing blog posts and communicating with senior managers coming on.
The second presentation at this session was on captioning. There was a lot of discussion around the need for human checking of captioning. It got me thinking of the guidance I have just produced for staff. Word for word editing of captions that have been generated by automatic speech recognition (ASR) is time consuming. If this was enforced we would probably have many academics who would just opt to no longer use videos or provide recordings. Instead I have promoted the idea of sense checking captions. I read through the captions file without watching the video to make sure it all makes sense. Only if I come across a part that is obviously wrong and I cannot remember what I said do I go back and check the video. This way you can make sure that the ASR hasn’t changed words that alter the meaning of what was said. You have to be so careful that an uhm, doesn’t turn the word after it into an un….. One example was when formed became unformed and changed the sentence to mean the opposite of what was intended. This sense checking means that we can meet the requirements of the legislation, provide suitable captions for students all without killing the teacher.
Accessibility of Third Party Tools
Again this was a session with two presentations, with me up first. I was presenting about the idea of developing a traffic light system for recommending third party tools to staff. We don’t want to stifle innovation, we want to provide guidance to staff on what tools to use to engage students in different scenarios but how do we know if a tool is suitable to use? We are in the process of trying to develop a framework for recommending the third party tools to staff within the context of whether they are supported by the University, they comply with GDPR requirements and last but not least that they are accessible.
The trouble is when you start looking at accessibility you have to start thinking about where do you find out about how accessible a tool is? We talked about using VPATs, but of course these are produced by the third party vendors themselves. We talked about the importance of discussing with students. Some third party tools that are promoted as assistive technologies are not accessible for all students. So does this come back in part to is there a way that students can engage with the same content in a different format that is accessible for them?
Again the session came up with as many questions as it did answers. It highlighted that although some useful resources are available such as Web2Access and Lexdis exist, these have to be continually updated as technology changes to maximise their benefits. The Lexdis resource that uses students with disabilities to provide advice on the accessibility of technologies did spark that idea that we need to make more use of students and their experiences in making these decisions.
Caroline Briggs from the University of Cumbria presented on their approach to meeting the Digital Accessibility Regulations. The biggest take home messages for me were the importance of getting buy-in from senior managers and the fact that these are working documents. You cannot just produce the statement and say it is done. Where there are any issues the accessibility statements provide a framework to improve accessibility but whatever happens these statements and the accessibility of the tools that they apply to needs to be reviewed regularly.
These interesting sessions provided lots of food for thought but my overarching aim to take away is that we need to make thinking about accessibility the norm. In that way it should not be too time consuming as it should be part of our everyday practice. It should also be something that we regularly talk to students about, both helping to ensure that our resources are accessible to them but also about raising awareness of digital accessibility in general.