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OER24 Guest Post: Ten active steps to improve digital accessibility in your educational institution. 

By Alice Chapman, Product Developer in Learning Design at Arden University

Digital accessibility, also known as Web Content Accessibility, is about creating digital spaces and content that is accessible to everyone, regardless of how they’re accessing, or their environment. 

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2 is developed with the goal of providing a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organisations, and governments internationally. 

For educational institutions, this means making sure that virtual learning environments and their content such as PDFs, Word documents, presentations such as PowerPoint, multimedia resources, and interactive activities, can be accessed by everyone. 

So how do we tackle it? You could choose to look at one component at a time, such as use of colours. You may want to look at things by department. How ever you choose to address the challenge, this blog post gives you ten steps to get you started in thinking about digital accessibility in your learning content and at your educational institution. 

  1. Pull back the curtains! 

Think about each component and where you use it in your content. For example, where would you use media such as images, videos, and podcasts? Now think about if you have included a text alternative. This can be a difficult part of the process, but it is important to be transparent and acknowledge your practices. Remember, you may not be able to fix any issues straight away, but knowing what the problem is, and the scale, is a big step forward.

  1. Identify the areas to address. 

What action do you need to take as a priority? As an example, you may have used images to give out key information which isn’t in an accessible format. You may have people at your workplace that have created guidance on understanding areas of accessibility and can help you make changes. If there is nothing internally, there is lots of guidance out there. 

  1. Consult with your students and your colleagues. 

Make sure you are consulting people with different backgrounds, to build in lived experience to the work that you are doing. You can ask students to tell you more about their experiences. Some will use different tools and devices to access the content. And it is also important to consider the experiences of designers and content creators too. For example, a colleague may use assistive technology in their daily life. 

  1. Write an accessibility statement. 

Look at the accessibility information provided by the product companies you use. You can align it with the work you have already completed on identifying a component, where you use it and how. This can then form the basis of your own statement to understand where you do and do not meet compliancy. 

  1. Get involved! 

Attend sessions to find out what is happening elsewhere on digital accessibility. If you feel confident enough, consider presenting at internal or external events, or publishing a blog post or article. By getting involved in communities of practice, there is a way to hold yourself accountable for your work. 

  1. Share the load. 

Encourage everyone to use accessible practices! Keep stakeholders informed by sharing good practice and inviting them to join you, even something as simple as having accessible email signatures. This is a great way to remind people to embed accessibility into their everyday work. 

  1. Continually check your own practices. 

Whenever you are sharing information or resources, make sure you are modelling good practice by providing things in accessible formats. Stay up to date with digital accessibility guidelines as they are revised to reflect technological needs. Look out for learning opportunities to keep your practices current. 

  1. Promote your work. 

Tell people what you are doing! People appreciate transparency and even if you are not where you want to be, by displaying a roadmap of developments, they can see what is to come, and your dedication to making change. 

  1. Create and share resources that are bespoke to your institution.

Whilst researching sector wide practices, look at models and processes at your workplace to inform your approach. You may need to check with different teams that input to certain components. For example, there may be internal processes for approval and procurement of technology for use. 

  1. Always reflect on your journey. 

Think about the road ahead but always look back on what you have achieved. It is a long journey that doesn’t really end but it is important to reflect on what you have done to help drive you forward.

Registration is still open for the 15th annual conference for Open Education research, practice and policy will be organised by ALT, in partnership with Munster Technological University (MTU).

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