On our project with the post-16 sector in Wales – Effective design and use of digital learning resources – Zac Gribble and I have been talking with staff in FE, work based learning and adult community learning about the importance of considering accessibility and inclusion.
We’ve been getting a few accessibility questions, so I got some advice from my colleague, accessibility specialist Laura Hutton. Here are some highlights, and if you’d like to hear the whole conversation (just over 9 minutes) you can find a recording at Lis and Laura Q+A on accessibility and inclusion – YouTube or read a full transcript.
We started by talking terminology. Words like accessibility, inclusion and diverse needs are used when discussing digital resources but it’s not always clear what they signify. Do they all mean the same thing? Do we need to worry about which term we use?
Laura explained that for her, accessibility is about platforms and tools. So if you’re designing or choosing digital learning resources for students, you need to ask questions like:
- Is the resource easy to use?
- Can people reach it?
- Can they understand it?
- Can they interact with it?
As Laura points out, we are talking about everybody here, regardless of whether they have a particular learning need or disability.
Inclusion goes further than just ensuring you don’t exclude someone, Laura says. It’s about actively promoting and respecting the fact that every learner should have the opportunity to be in on your digital learning resource. So that means asking yourself questions like:
- Am I making everyone feel welcome?
- Am I making every learner feel just as valid a part of the learning experience as everybody else that’s there?
So being inclusive is not just about functionality, it’s about how the user feels – quite a difference!
When designing or choosing digital learning resources, diversity has a slightly different emphasis. Laura suggested that it is about being mindful of the uniqueness of each individual, recognising those individual differences, appreciating and celebrating them.
I liked Laura’s emphasis on the importance of enjoying the uniqueness that makes each of us human. Discussing these issues reminded me of the current movement in universities to increase diversity in library services and collections – see for example the University of the West of England’s library blog where they say: “Diversity is being asked to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”
A good user experience
Laura and I talked about the importance of considering accessibility, inclusion and diversity at the outset if you want to create effective digital learning resource and offer an enjoyable user experience. She pointed out the four design principles in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1): perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. Not only are these qualities needed to enable access to those with disabilities, they make sense as selection criteria for any digital learning resource (including library resources for those in FE). If your resource is not accessible, you’re limiting opportunities for learners to participate and to engage.
Laura also touched on Universal Design for Learning which I plan to return to in a future blog post. In the meantime there is some background about UDL on the CAST website. For me, it looks like a very useful framework for designing and selecting learning resources as it explicitly recognises a place for content and information within pedagogy.
Create and collaborate
Post-16 practitioners in Wales have been telling us that it’s hard to locate existing digital learning resources for students with additional communication needs, particularly those with autism. Laura pointed out a reason for this: each student’s individual wants and needs will be different: “this blows the one-size-fits all out of the water!” especially if you’re looking for something for a specific subject and level.
One solution, in Laura’s view, is to be ready to create your own resources and collaborate with others. Look out for products that allow you to create a resource such as a quiz then share it on their platform (for example Kahoot or Quizizz). We also have the Jisc accessibility community group with lots of channels for peer discussion and sharing, including a channel on learning materials.
Advice on strategies
While there may not be a bank of perfect resources sitting out there to meet very specific learner requirements, there are organisations and sites which can offer ideas on strategies for meeting those needs (and they may have some resources too!). A few recommended by Laura are CALL Scotland, Natspec and local specialist charities. By linking up with others who understand deeply the needs of your learners, you can get encouragement and inspiration, even if you ultimately have to craft resources to fit a particular niche.
Involve your learners
Laura is a big advocate for involving your learners to find out what they need from digital learning resources and what works for them. Look for opportunities for them to help create resources which you can use with a future group. That group in turn can feed into future design and use of your resources. The idea of a digital learning resource as a living thing which can be moulded and improved, time after time, is a very powerful one. It would be great to see more examples from the post-16 sector.
I really enjoyed chatting to Laura and she helped me add to my list of useful links for our project participants in Wales (see below). She reminded me of the ‘can do’ spirit that exists in the accessibility community, where the uniqueness of each learner’s experience is celebrated. Thankyou Laura!
Resources | Autism Toolbox – funded by Scottish Government and managed by Education Scotland
AAC iPad Wheel – this recently-updated resource from CALL Scotland is a categorised guide to iPad Apps for individuals with complex communication support needs, who may need to use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). There is also an Android version (last updated 2018).
The following are some examples of tools recommended by post-16 practitioners in Wales:
- Read&Write For Education – Reading, Literacy & Assistive Software | Texthelp
- One FE practitioner in Essential Skills and Pathways recommended “Read&Write for inclusive communication, Seesaw for resources (need adapting but great)”
- See also Customer Story – Cardiff & Vale College take the next step with Read&Write
- Wordwall | Create better lessons quicker
- One ACL practitioner in additional learning needs said “We have just purchased licenses for WordWall. Great range of varied templates from labelling diagrams to quizzes and card matching.”
- Excellence Gateway
UKSG FE Webinar Series: Librarians as accessibility superheroes– for FE learning resources staff, a recording of a very useful short webinar by Jisc specialist Kellie Mote.