5 Technology ideas to help universities be more accessible

Two students sat back-to-back on a bench with books and bags on the floor around them, one student reading - the other on their laptopAs of September 2018 all public sector websites are required to meet the EU Accessibility Directive (check out our webinar on how the EU Accessibility Directive relates to universities). The UK Equality Act also states that institutions should offer reasonable adjustments so that, where possible, disabled people are not excluded.

Universities have a duty to be as inclusive as possible, and many work with AbilityNet to help make courses more accessible to students. Here we look at some of the technology options that universities can use to make their materials and courses more accessible to disabled students.

1. Lecture capture

It is increasingly common for universities with a strong focus on accessibility to offer recorded lectures to students. There are various types of lecture capture available, including hardware and software options.

Lecture Capture technology will record lectures, including slides, the voice of the lecturer and sometimes includes a video of the lecture. This can benefit all students, including those away from college for ill health, physical disabilities, as well as anyone who finds it useful to have important material repeated.

Options range in price, but simple, cheaper lecture capture can be effective.

It’s important to make sure the videos work on multiple devices and that captions are included - particularly for students with hearing loss or with English as a second language.

2. Blackboard Ally

Blackboard Ally can be used within learning environments such as Moodle and is designed to make digital course content more accessible. It uses machine learning algorithms to automatically provide instant content alternatives. Formats include HTML, audio, ePub, electronic Braille and tagged PDF.

Ally will also give accessibility scores and feedback for course leaders and lectures to understand where they could be more accessible with their content in the future.

Blackboard Ally website

3. SensusAccess

SensusAccess is a tool which students and staff can use to convert slides, lecture notes and readings into a range of alternate media including audio books, e-books and digital Braille.

The service can also be used to convert inaccessible documents such as image-only PDF files, JPG pictures and Microsoft PowerPoint presentations into more accessible formats. For example you could convert an image only PDF or JPEG file to a Word document, MP3 file or e-book.

SensusAccess website

4. Word Accessibility Checker in Microsoft Office 365

All staff and students could be encouraged to use Word’s free built-in Accessibility Checker for documents, PowerPoint slides and Outlook emails.

Few people know about this resource and use it, but it’s a useful tool. It offers a great starting point for anyone who hasn't thought about accessibility before and may lead to further understanding of the needs of disabled people.

The good news is that you don't need to know exactly why you're making your work accessible before you use it. The checker includes loads of tips and information about why these changes are useful.

Find out more about Microsoft Accessibility Checker here. 

5. My Study My Way

My Study My Way is the student inclusion platform for Higher Education, developed by AbilityNet and powered by Clear Talents. It was developed to help universities and colleges to create an inclusive education environment as part of AbilityNet's vision of a digital world where higher education is equally accessible to all.

This is an easy-to-use system that automates the process of identifying each student's needs - the reports it provides offer students and advisers the information and advice they need to succeed. But it also offers the data needed to help develop and deliver best practice inclusion and diversity strategy.

Visit the My Study My Way site


Why not come to one of our free webinars and tech demo sessions for students and universities?

An AbilityNet member of staff giving a presentation in front of university staffAbilityNet runs free tech demo sessions for universities at various venues and via webinars. These are designed to introduce both free and paid for solutions widely available to support all students. On the 20 June we will be running a webinar from 1-2pm offering free training on inclusive technology for students (register here for the inclusive tech for students webinar). We also provide paid-for more indepth sessions on what's available, including info on free and low-cost lecture capture solutions and accessibility advice and training. Here's how to contact us here for more information on inclusive technology.

Get some top tips from Brighton University and Kent University on how they're becoming increasingly accessible.

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