Accessibility is for everyone.

Published by UCLan Centre for Collaborative Learning on

Author: Laura Ward, Senior eLearning Developer, Centre for Collaborative Learning.

The culture around the idea of accessibility has started to shift as changes in digital expectations occur, Higher Education courses of study evolve and diversify, and life and global events shape the way technology is consumed.

Changes in Digital Expectations:

Though I am one to avoid generalisations around generations (Boomers, Gen X, Millenials, Gen Z etc) and the idea of digital natives, the way individuals and different generations interact with technology shapes, and is shaped by, the cultural environment. It progressively affects the way technology is viewed and evolves. There are now two generations, Gen Z and Gen Alpha, who have grown up in an era dominated by digital.  How they consume digital media (marketing, entertainment, education, social etc) has completely changed from previous generations. Technological literacy levels have increased*, with earlier and wider access to technology being available, and with this increase has come more varied and progressive expectations. Expectations have shifted from passive, chalk and talk learning to students wanting to be more engaged, using technology in education, wanting social connections and wanting to be active learners. This shapes the way teaching and learning will be in Higher Education.

Digital learning content must be inclusive of this dynamic shift to Online Collaborative Learning (OCL) models in teaching, using technology as a tool to help aid in the process of social online learning and being accessible for all in a realm of flexible modality.  Tutors are less information conveyors and more facilitators, sharing their experiences in industry and research to support social learning, through active and engaging constructivist models of teaching and learning. Content is more aligned with being in a digital format to allow for flipped, blended and OCL. The expectation (from students) of active social learning, and using technology in education means that the content needs to be accessible for all. It is expected to be accessible for students by students, so everyone has the support and opportunity to engage in Online Collaborative Learning effectively.

* Though the level of digital literacy has increased overall, individuals’ engagement with digital technology is still varied and dependent on multiple cultural and socio-economic factors. New generations are not innate and talented users of digital technologies, it is more a case that they are exposed to it at a younger age and for longer periods than previous generations, so have more experience with technology. It simply means that individuals are more able to use the technology in terms of user/front end technical use. Something to consider when creating and using technology and how you can scaffold it effectively for your students.

Course of Study:

The diversification of Higher Education courses involving placement-based models of practice, involves another level of thinking about accessibility; situational limitations. Think about when learning situations are challenging for students. Do you have students on placement who will need to access content outside of the timetabled in-session learning?  Do they need to access learning content in a mobile manner; places of work, libraries, trains, buses, in the middle of a field etc? The flexibility of accessible digital content means that it can be used, even under the most challenging circumstances. Take video content for example, something as simple as closed captions on videos makes the resource accessible for everyone to take in the salient information while in noisy environments, such as industry placements, trains etc. This transforms the content to a visual, audio, or audio and visual tool depending on environmental and individual needs. Additionally Responsive Web Design (RWD) and website accessibility means content created with RWD can be used on any digital device (phone, laptop, tablet etc). For example content that is created in Articulate Rise (which has in-built RWD) is responsive and will react quickly and effectively to the change in device or screen orientation. This means if a student is accessing the content via their phone on the bus, while another is accessing from a desktop at home, both their user experiences are smooth and efficient, with no loss of information or interactivity. Previously RWD was done due to accessibility legislation, though now it is an expected standard of websites by most individuals.

Life and Global events:

The multiple facets of an individuals’ life have an impact on their ability to access digital content, adding other levels of thinking about accessibility; economical limitations, Neurodivergence and disabilities.

Economical limitations include individuals who have slow internet or limited bandwidth due to expenses or geological challenges, so can only access accessible versions of digital content. This means things such as Alt text and transcripts are important as photo and video may not load on low bandwidth internet, but the descriptions will.

The diversity of individuals means that content presented in accessible formats helps everyone;  Neurodivergent individuals need multiple media content types for the same information.  They may also prefer different communication methods, such as chat functions and Teams posts rather than actively participating in calls and Teams meetings. Individuals with dyslexia may wish to use colour overlays and text to speech functions, as well as those who like to listen while multitasking, like an audio book. Individuals with reduced dexterity such as those with arthritis or RSI can access content through the keyboard, which is also useful when a computer mouse is broken.

Though everyone is aware of the legality of accessibility from a disability perspective, some struggle to contextualise what that means. From an academic content creation perspective, you must make any resources accessible for your students. If you have a cohort who do not have any adjustments highlighted on their learning plans, you are not exempt. From a practical and adaptable viewpoint there are considerations to understand which often people forget about, such as temporary disabilities (broken arm/hand, those who have episodic disabilities, ear infections, lost glasses etc). Retrospectively recreating content in the middle of a busy academic term to accommodate students is not practical or ideal. If you get the content accessibility sorted at the beginning of the term you are covered for the full academic year.

Digital content in-built already with accessible design means that when unexpected scenarios occur the digital content is already, to some degree, ready for that adaptation. An example of an in-class technology that can be used across different modalities is 360° video and photo based Virtual Reality. It is a hard technology to make inclusive, it relies on sight, sound and motion when used in a headset. However making sure that the modality of the content can be flexible makes the resource more accessible. Enabling both use in a VR headset and in an online format allows for those with motor issues, or those who struggle with wearing VR headsets, to access the same content as others. It also means content can be accessed outside of the headset, allowing for material to be revised from online and accessed outside of in-person sessions, or remotely.

The pandemic highlighted this with many people having to work from home, merging home life and work boundaries. Some individuals had no childcare so had children at home while they were working remotely, needing flexibility in when they access content; pets who became needy or noisy due to the routine change; spouses working in the same house (even the same room); housemates doing the same or neighbours who were also in the same situation so homes were louder generally. Headphones may not have worked if you didn’t have noise cancelling ones, due to situational limitations, but closed captions on videos meant that it was still accessible without being able to hear the audio.  As this is a base level accessibility standard videos didn’t need to be revised/reuploaded.

Summary:

“The power of WWW is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” Sir Tim Berners-Lee (2006)

The key is for accessibility to be a given when creating digital resources. It should be the rule not the exception. It may originally have been seen as a legality tick box by some, but as the cultural shift in digital expectations occur, Higher Education courses of study change to be industry and placement based, and challenging global events shape the way technology is consumed, it is more pertinent than ever that digital content should be as adaptable as possible. It allows for opportunities for all to succeed without singling out individuals.  Content is accessible by everyone, including those with disabilities (chronic, temporary or situational) while meeting expectations of students and being as adaptable as possible in case of unexpected life and global events. Accessibility is for everyone.

Previous post about accessibility:

Image by Daniel Friesenecker from Pixabay

Sources of Information:

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Francis, T. & Hoefel, F. (2018) “True Gen: Generation Z and its implications for companies’’.

http://www.drthomaswu.com/uicmpaccsmac/Gen%20Z.pdf (Accessed 07/12/2022).

Harasim, L. (2012). Learning theory and online technologies. Routledge.

Hashim, H. (2018) “Application of technology in the digital era education’’. Vol 7. No. 1: March 25. http://ppsfip.ppj.unp.ac.id/index.php/ijrice/article/view/2/81 (Accessed 07/12/2022).

Ziatdinov, R. & Cilliers, J. (2022) ‘’Generation Alpha: Understanding the Next Cohort of University Students’’ https://arxiv.org/abs/2202.01422 (Accessed 07/12/2022).

Sanders, Welk (2005) ‘‘Strategies to Scaffold Student Learning Applying Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development’’ Nurse Educator. Vol. 30 No. 5, pp 203 – 207. https://journals.lww.com/nurseeducatoronline/Fulltext/2005/09000/Strategies_to_Scaffold_Student_Learning__Applying.7.aspx (Accessed 07/12/2022).

Selwyn, N. (2009), “The digital native – myth and reality”, Aslib Proceedings, Vol. 61 No. 4, pp. 364-379. https://doi.org/10.1108/00012530910973776 (Accessed 07/12/2022).

Gus, A. (2022) ‘‘NEWS – THE IMPORTANCE OF WEB ACCESSIBILITY FOR ALL’’

https://senclude.com/read-more-about/-the-importance-of-web-accessibility-for-all (Accessed 07/12/2022).


1 Comment

Simon Hawkesworth · March 29, 2023 at 11:36 am

Great blog post. Really insightful, interesting and well researched.

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