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Accessibility Practices Higher Education Establishments Should be Using

Written by Ben Leach on

In the third of our four part series on higher education and accessibility, we look at what procedures and practices higher education establishments should be using to make their digital services more accessible.

As accessibility advocates and specialists in higher education web estates, we have significant knowledge of what’s needed to be accessible on higher education websites and digital services. 

In this blog, we go through some of the practices that higher education establishments should be using to upscale their accessibility. 

Why is accessibility important in higher education establishments? 

As covered in one of our previous blogs about why accessibility should be a priority for higher education establishments (LINK), it comes down to three main factors; moral obligation, legal obligation and financial obligation. 

Fundamentally, accessibility is the right thing to do. Ensuring digital services are accessible for students and staff, regardless of disability, is essential. Beyond the moral obligations, there are also legal obligations to accessibility. With the Public Sector Accessibility Legislation coming into force, higher education establishments should be accessible. And finally, accessible websites could lead to increased student recruitment and retention and support a higher education establishment financially. 

But how can higher education establishments be accessible? And what are some practices that can be used to make the accessibility journey an easier one?

Procedures and guidance on accessibility within higher education

Why publishing procedures and guidelines on accessibility are beneficial

As a digital agency that specialises in the higher education market, we are always saying that guidance and procedures that govern content and marketing are the key to sustaining accessibility within an organisation. Ensuring that staff understand how to create content that is universally understood is essential.

Guidance and publishing procedures not only benefit higher education’s marketing in the sense of maintaining a consistent tone of voice, but also how accessible and easy to understand the content actually is.

Many higher education establishments usually contain a huge number of content editors. This could be individuals that manage the content of a specific subject area, or indeed faculty professors and staff members that upload specific content for their students. As well as the communications and marketing teams.

Are publishing guidelines for accessibility being used in higher education?

Despite the expectation that organisations should have a formal policy around ensuring that their websites meet the minimum accessibility requirements, the number is surprisingly low.

Only 50% of higher education establishments in the UK and Ireland (as per a Terminalfour survey of higher education establishments) have any kind of policy that sets out the requirements for ensuring websites are accessible for their users.

Why are publishing guidelines for accessibility are essential?

In order to maintain and champion accessibility, it’s essential that these content editors are trained in how to create accessible web content and documentation and deliver that. The expectation is that procedures and guidance for publishing accessible content on the institution’s web estate are comprehensive. 

Our definition of comprehensive being that editors have a good resource that outlines how content should be created, the accessibility considerations, the accountability, roles and decision-making.

Using accessible pattern libraries in website creation

What are accessible pattern libraries and how are they used? 

Pattern libraries are a collection of user interface design elements that can be implemented into designs and code to improve the user experience.

Pattern libraries are tried and tested elements of a website design and development that can be used to ensure the user experience remains consistent throughout the web estate. Pattern libraries can include a number of elements, including:

  • Menus
  • Footers
  • Forms
  • Buttons
  • Message and notification bars
  • Displaying data

Simply put, a pattern is a specific element that can be included in the wireframing and website code to ensure a digital service remains consistent and the user experience flows across many microsites. Having pattern libraries helps with user experience and accessibility by using tried and tested methods of interaction.

Use of pattern libraries within higher education

You’d expect that higher education establishments would have a digital pattern library to help ensure their many micro-sites remain consistent, however, a survey done by Terminalfour of higher education establishments revealed otherwise. 

Only 8.5% of respondents said that they have a comprehensive digital pattern library, with 27.3% saying they have one but it needs further development. 33% claimed they didn’t have a digital pattern library, a further 31% answered “What’s a digital pattern library”.

Training for staff members on how to champion and monitor accessibility

Training staff to understand accessibility

Training staff is a crucial part of ensuring that everyone is on the same page, and it’s no different with accessibility. 

Content editors should be trained on how to create, manage and update content in websites whilst adhering to accessibility best practices. With universities producing news, blogs, publications, it’s very easy for individuals not skilled in accessibility to create pages that are inaccessible to disabled users. 

Marketing teams should also understand how to deliver thoughtful, engaging and accessible social media posts, marketing collateral and adverts that are accessible. 

Further, whilst it’s crucial for content editors and the wider communication team to be adequately trained, it’s important for every staff member to know what accessibility is, and why it’s vital. From professors, to administrators and everyone in between. Staff should be going through accessibility awareness training. Those who create documentation should also be trained on how to create accessible documents. 

Ensuring people are on board with accessibility is a crucial step in ensuring the organisation can move forward and be more inclusive. 

Training on how to consistently monitor and audit accessibility

Not only should content teams be trained on how to deliver accessibility in the content they produce, but they should also know how to monitor that accessibility. Carrying out periodic audits of content, using assistive technology, should be built into the team’s processes. 

Using automated testing tools can only pick up roughly 30% of errors with a page. Being able to carry out thorough tests using assistive technology and manual reviews is a huge advantage for a content team to ensure they stay on top of accessibility. It also helps to highlight areas of weakness with accessibility knowledge. Getting training on how to carry out effective audits, and use assistive technology is incredibly important. 

Creating accessibility statements and roadmaps

Another top skill for staff in a higher education is to be able to create Government compliant accessibility statements. Accessibility statements are required by law to be published by public sector bodies, ensuring that individual faults, dates when a fault will be fixed and the level of compliance are all part of the statement. For a higher education establishment to be self-sufficient in managing their accessibility, this is an essential skill. 

Roadmaps are equally important, they allow users to understand the priorities of the university when it comes to inclusivity, and they allow wider teams to understand what should be focused on. 

Increasing responsibility within higher education teams

Why championing accessibility and taking responsibility is important

Accessibility should be championed by the entire workforce of a higher education establishment. 

However, it should be the duty of a person to monitor how accessible a web estate is, and recommend improvements. With such vast websites and digital services, it can be a difficult task to keep on top of for communications teams who are also responsible for other things. to keep on top of accessibility.

This is why ensuring there is a person responsible for accessibility in an establishments makesmake the work a lot easier. This will allow the organisation to maintain accessibility, and consistently deliver accessible products. 

How many higher education establishments have a person responsible for accessibility? 

Only 58% of respondents to the Terminalfour survey from the UK and Ireland mentioned that their organisation had a designated person responsible for upholding accessibility requirements. Or a singular person responsible for handling accessibility issues. 

Need help with accessibility? 

As an agency that has helped a number of Universities with accessibility, we can help. 

Whether it’s training, consultancy or development support, we can help your establishment become more responsible for accessibility.