User login

Report launches as new regulations will make blended learning accessible for all students

Report launches as new regulations will make blended learning accessible for all students

11th September 2018

A cross-party inquiry, published by Policy Connect and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology shows that new public sector web accessibility regulations can transform blended learning to benefit all students – but government and the sector must work together to implement the regulations effectively.  

The rise of blended learning creates more flexible and creative approaches to education. Accessible design of online content is part of this – giving students the choice to view content on their phone, Brail display, Kindle, or as an audio file, and more. But the sector hasn’t lived up to this promise, and disabled students frequently struggle with inaccessible course content, relying on support staff to make special adjustments that leave them one step behind their peers.

There are examples of good practice, that have been highlighted by the Office for Students and in evidence to this inquiry. In response to cuts to Disabled Students Allowance, many HEIs have developed strategies to promote inclusive teaching and learning. This improves provision for all students and reduces the need to make post hoc adjustments to support disabled students.

But the report finds that the sector has a long way to go. Research from report sponsor Blackboard Ally found that in North America the accessibility score of VLE content improved by just 11.27% between 2012 and 2017. As one student told the inquiry: ‘Documents that are uploaded onto the VLE are usually intended for sighted users’. The OfS has recommended that HEIs improve digital accessibility and has identified disabled students as one of four ‘underrepresented groups’ that should be given special attention in HEI Access and Participation Plans. 

For the first time, new regulations set a clear standard in law for online content to be accessible. Yet to take advantage of these new regulations, government, the OfS/Ofsted and sector organisations need to support HEIs to implement change.

The inquiry found that lecturers often lack the digital skills they need to make accessible documents – or even awareness of what is required. Demands on staff time and a lack of priority given to this area in staff training programs have contributed to this skills gap. The government has a legal obligation to raise awareness of the regulations and the benefits of digital accessibility, and promote related training.  The report calls for the Department for Education to fund training for key staff who can then provide training and guidance within their organisation.

The sector also needs much greater clarity from the government on key aspects of the regulations. The government will provide a guidance document for the public sector as a whole but the specific features of VLEs and blended learning mean HEIs/FE Colleges need tailored detailed technical guidance.

Finally, the new regulations mean every HEI/FE College must have a strategy for making blended learning inclusive. Drawing from best practice examples such as the University of Kent and the University of Darby the inquiry found that HEI/FE College should establish multi-departmental working groups, with student representation and participation from leadership, to develop and oversee the strategy.

Key Facts

  • On 23rd of September 2018 the Public Sector Web Accessibility Regulations will become UK law. The regulation covers VLEs content including documents and lecture capture recordings. By the 23rd of September 2019 all newly published content on a VLE must be accessible, and once a VLE has been substantially revised, all the content must be accessible.
  • The regulations also require VLEs to carry an ‘accessibility statement’: a public declaration of where the HEI/FE College stands with compliance, and information for students on how to raise issues and make complaints.
  • The Office for Students has made inclusive teaching and learning a key priority. Disabled students are one of four ‘underrepresented groups’ the OfS has emphasised in Access and Participation plans. And report from the OfS recommended inclusive approached that don’t require individual adjustments for disabled students. As part of this, the OfS has recommend that HEIs improve digital accessibility.
  • Despite some good practice, the HE sector has been slow to improve digital accessibility: research from report sponsor Blackboard Ally found that in North America, the accessibility score of VLE content improved by just 11.27% between 2012 and 2017. 
  • This inquiry is Co-Chaired by Conservative Peer Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE and Labour’s Seema Malhotra, Member of Parliament for Feltham and Heston.