To mark Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), we interviewed Disability and Inclusion Manager, Annette Davidson and Accessibility Champion for the School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences, Toni Gibson. Annette and Toni speak about digital accessibility at RGU, its importance and how they have been working towards improving it during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What does digital accessibility mean?
Toni: Digital accessibility is allowing anyone to access everything online regardless of their disabilities or any other underlying issues. Whether they have visual or hearing impairments, autism, dyslexia or mental health difficulties, they should be able to access material that is online through whatever systems software they have available to them.
Annette: It means making sure that students have access to RGU‘s digital content, whatever way they access it, regardless of their disabilities. In other words, it means that there is equality of access to all.
Can you tell us about your role as an accessibility champion?
Toni: I am an online learning developer within the School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences. Accessibility is just one of the threads of my role. I look after the online learning experience of students and I help the staff to create their online materials so that they are accessible to all. With the pandemic, teaching has been structured a little differently and we want all students to be able to access that.
Essentially, I help the teaching staff make all of their materials accessible and help students access online content at RGU. Let’s say that a student has a hearing impediment, then I make sure that they have the materials converted into whatever format they need, to continue their learning. When we know that a student is having difficulty with accessibility due to disabilities, we send them to the Inclusion Centre. This is where Annette comes in. Annette and her team will assess the students and provide holistic support in whatever way they need.
How does the Inclusion Centre support students in terms of digital accessibility?
Annette: If a student has substantial requirements, then the Inclusion Centre works with them to see what’s appropriate for them. Often that is around things like software. There is already a range of software available for students. For example, when you log on to Citrix, there is something called Read and Write Gold. This software is specifically designed for students with dyslexia. It will read out what you bring up on the screen. It also has skimming filters, enhanced spellcheckers and students can also embed written materials into audio.
In addition to this, we help students apply for the Disabled Student Allowance. This will cover the costs of special software that students might need. This could include proofreading, screening software or any other digital requirements. The Inclusion Centre is in touch with a network of disability services across Scotland. We also have contact with specialist agencies and suppliers whom we work with to get the best solutions for students.
What are some of the projects that you are involved?
Toni: We are working on a university-wide project along with the Department for the Enhancement of Learning Teaching and Assessment (DELTA).
Annette: DELTA are responsible to “teach the teachers”. They do not teach subjects like the lecturers, their role is something else. Let’s say that a new member of teaching staff is coming to RGU, it is DELTA’s responsibility to educate them about the technology of teaching. CampusMoodle is a big part of DELTA. We have been working with them around the new Accessibility Legislation. This was introduced on 23rd September 2019 and it said that all public sector websites must meet accessibility guidelines.
DELTA are working with the schools, accessibility champions like Toni and teaching staff to make sure that our web content is accessible to the wider community. They are helping look at the content type, the platforms used and so on. They have come up with a group of templates to make certain documents easily accessible. For example, these templates can make PowerPoint or Word documents automatically accessible. They have also produced a checklist to help the teaching staff check their materials. The Inclusion Centre alongside DELTA have been doing a number of workshops.
Toni: One thing that we have been doing is trying to improve the captioning of Panopto, our lecture streaming service. We understand that the transcription of lectures through Panopto is not 100% accurate. We have been encouraging the staff to listen to the recordings and make any changes. We are very focused on building these services because even post-pandemic online learning will be part of the University.
We have also always been particular about putting in alternate texts (alt text) against images. It has become a rule now. This is because a lot of people use them to read their materials. Even for students that do not have visual or hearing impairments, this feature just makes things easier for them, especially in the School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences.
Why is digital accessibility important?
Toni: It’s not just important for students, it is important for people in general. Everything is going online these days and the pandemic is proof of that. We need to make sure that whatever we put up online is accessible to everybody. No one should be impacted and not be able to access digital content.
Annette: Equality of access to your course and education, in-person or digitally is important. So much of the content at RGU is digital. With the pandemic, online learning has become the way that students learn. It should not be effortful for students to access their course because of this. All RGU students must have easy access to learning and deserve to achieve their fullest potential. That is what we are working towards.
If you are an RGU student with dyslexia, sensory and mobility impairments, mental health difficulties, medical conditions or autism spectrum disorders, please reach out to the RGU Inclusion Mentoring Service for study support. Please make appointments either by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 01224 262103.