City is currently celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) with a month’s worth of amazing events. On May 25, Dr. Miranda Melcher hosted a panel event showcasing some of the work on digital accessibility that’s being done at City! The panelists were James Saward who leads the Disability and Neurodiversity Support team, Jessica Wykes in Library Services, Angela Wraight from the Web Content team, and Maria Kaffa who is on the digital accessibility team within the Learning Enhancement and Development department.
What work is City doing on digital accessibility?
In the panel, the participants discussed how their areas of City are currently working on accessibility, both in the big picture and day-to-day. James discussed how his team is continuing to work with students on their individual needs in education, as well as expanding how the team communicates their support to the student population generally through a more proactive method of signposting what’s available to City students. Jessica in the library works closely with James’ team on individual needs, but also has a focus on some larger institutional accessibility improvements. For example, one area she’s currently focusing on is ensuring that City has the most up-to-date knowledge about the accessibility of third-party suppliers that the university works with, and actively engaging in conversation with suppliers to ensure that accessibility remains a core priority for future projects and services coming to City in future.
The panel was then asked about what they were excited about that was coming up around accessibility at City. Maria spoke about her current involvement in improving reporting around understanding the uptake and impact of City’s increased use of captioning for teaching materials. James also is excited about improving knowledge of what’s working and where improvements are needed, which for his team will be coming in the next few months with a new reporting system to systematically understand students’ needs to provide more visibility about accessibility improvements at the programme and school level.
Meanwhile, Angela and Jessica both spoke about how the heightened visibility and growing awareness of digital accessibility has helped them each develop their skills and how helpful it’s been to be part of the Digital Accessibility Working Group at City. Jessica and Maria also spoke about how much they’ve learned from and enjoyed working with City students on testing accessibility solutions and ideas and thinking about improving the user experience of multiple facets at City. Angela was enthused about the growing awareness and involvement of accessibility champions across the university, and Jessica mentioned the new and growing accessibility champions group within City library.
What can we all do?
Finally, each of our experts shared some top tips for everyone to improve their accessibility practice.
- James stressed that because of changes required by the pandemic, the attainment gap for disabled students has lessened. Specifically, he pointed to the increase in recorded materials being available, especially with captions, enabling students to learn at their own pace and in ways that suit them. Additionally, James mentioned the number of built-in tools that now exist in mainstream software like Microsoft Word that help students be more flexible and creative about their learning and learning resources.
- Jessica also recommended several software tools that are available to everyone, not just students with disclosed disabilities, to improve reading experiences in a huge variety of ways.
- Angela discussed the importance of testing accessibility and pointed to screenreader tools being helpful in her work, for example in ensuring that City web content not only looks good but sounds good as well.
- Finally, Maria closed out the panel with a lovely declaration of how digital accessibility improves the experience for everyone, not just people with disabilities, and encouraged everyone to prioritise accessibility as a core and habitual practice, rather than a niche or one-off consideration.
Resources and support
LEaD has staff and student guidance around digital accessibility, including workshops about how to make digitally accessible learning materials. Additionally, the library has guidance on assistive technology. This blog is one of many Learning at City blog resources on digital accessibility. The full recording of the event is available to City staff and students here.
You can watch a recording of the panel below.