In the age of technology, with the recent global events reshaping how we perceive education, the question of digital accessibility is at the forefront of educational development. On the eve of a new academic year, this article delves into the key concepts and strategies for creating digitally accessible learning designs.
The Imperative for Digital Accessibility
Digital accessibility is more than just compliance with the legal mandates, such as the Equality Act 2010 legislation in the UK. It’s about broadening the horizon for wider access, inclusion, and social justice. This shift is particularly poignant in the wake of Covid-19, where the need to adapt has led to new forms of practice.
Accessibility by Design vs Retrofitting
The main argument in favour of accessible learning design is the proactive approach to create content that is inclusive from the onset, rather than attempting to retrofit accessibility onto existing materials. This preemptive strategy ensures that accessibility is ingrained in the learning design, making it more effective and robust.
Beyond Compliance: Making it Real
The transition to digitally accessible learning is not just about adhering to policies. Institutions are keen to enact real changes, tapping into Universal Design and encouraging best practices. This includes improving captioning of video content, thinking beyond automated captions, and emphasising an anticipatory approach rather than a reactive one.
From Belief to Behaviour
Understanding and implementing accessibility require distinguishing between beliefs, knowledge, and behaviours. It’s not enough to agree with the principles; the goal is to turn these beliefs into practical knowledge and tangible behaviours.
Tools and Self-Assessment
Different institutions employ a range of tools to improve digital accessibility, from Accessibility Net to Blackboard Ally, and Microsoft Word. What often seems missing, however, is a way for individuals to gauge their personal accessibility practice. This gap has led to the development of self-assessment methods, encouraging colleagues to reflect on their engagement with accessibility and identify areas for improvement.
Practical Examples and Engagement
Through interactive activities and questions, individuals can assess their position on the willingness and capability spectrum for digital accessibility. These assessments provide a clear picture of areas of strength and potential weaknesses. Such insights allow targeted support and development, whether through workshops, coaching, or specific resources.
Future Prospects and Open Access Tools
While the current tools are evolving, there are plans for an open-access web interface for self-assessment. This will be a valuable resource for individuals and institutions alike, guiding specific improvements based on personalised responses.
Digital accessibility in learning design is a complex yet vital aspect of modern education. It goes beyond mere legal compliance, aiming at a comprehensive, anticipatory approach that turns beliefs into action. By leveraging the available tools, engaging in self-assessment, and fostering a collaborative culture, institutions are not only enhancing their educational content but are paving the way for a more inclusive, just, and forward-thinking educational landscape. The shift towards inclusive digital learning design is more than a trend; it’s an ethical imperative that resonates with the values of education in a connected world.
This post summarises a lecture by Martin Compton on Digitally accessible learning design, hosted by Digitally Enhanced Education Webinars at the University of Kent. The lecture is available on YouTube.
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Amir-Homayoun Javadi, PhD
Founder and CEO at 0&1 LTD