I found this very difficult before due to being in a job role whereby I had no responsibilities for contributing to or creating policies around educational technology and was therefore limited to describing my interactions with legislation and policy and this was scored as Adequate.
3a: Understanding and engaging with legislation – Digital Accessibility
I have been involved with digital accessibility nearly all of my career, initially working towards compliance for the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) and now The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018. This journey started when I was given responsibility to ensure that all web pages were compliant within Aurion systems. I audited all of our products to guarantee they met level 2 of the W3C regulations and where possible to achieve the highest levels. In order to achieve this I trained all staff in the W3C requirements.
From there I have always ensured that anything I create meets the standards, from alt tags to transcripts of audio/video. When I was the developer I was able to control the compliance as I was the one who finally published content but moving to a support role at Ulster I was responsible for ensuring others had the skills and knowledge to create their own accessible content.
One of the first things I did in my role was write the Digital Learning accessibility statement (in the evidence below) based on the example template provided by the UK government. Following this I attended an AbilityNet webinar on how these HE statements should be written and how institutions were going to be audited over the coming years. After this I edited the Ulster statement adding in additional specific education technology aspects and work that was progressing such as Blackboard Ally etc. Since its initial publication it has undergone review and update annually, thus reflecting the recommendations to ensure it is uptodate.
Throughout the pandemic I led and delivered several webinars on wider inclusion and accessibility as well as several specifically on captioning. To ensure wider institutional impact I applied for internal funding for an institutional licence for Blackboard Ally to afford students the opportunity to choose an alternative format of each textual resource within the VLE. Following approval this project ran initially for seventeen months from July 2021. This valuable resource benefited the whole student body of approximately 22,000 students and was the culmination of around eighteen months of lobbying on my part to senior management.
The key element to this work was reaching out and making connections with multiple stakeholders across the institution. For example, I have co-delivered the digital accessibility webinars with a Student Wellbeing (student support) colleague, as they were able to demonstrate the difficulties that students experience, thus providing crucial context for staff to get their buy-in.
This area of my work has never been explicit and I have always pursued advocacy work as something I feel is one of the single most important elements of digital resources. It not only is crucial for disabled users but it benefits every single student. Over my career the web regulations are still as relevant today as they were 20 years ago, and I appreciate the language of empathy that the original version had.
The work I did around digital accessibility in the first year at Ulster was crucial to setting the foundations for wider advocacy when the pandemic hit. It also made answering a FOI request on our work in this area straightforward as I had everything to hand and was proud of how much information I was able to provide as to how we were supporting staff and students.
Throughout the pandemic raising awareness did increase exponentially, however, there is still a mountain of work to do. Difficult tensions around the time to correct machine-generated captions remain as well as lack of wider engagement with providing ALT text for images. Overall, the largest hurdle is lack of time on the part of colleagues with high teaching loads and lack of awareness of how many students benefit. For example, at times when I start to discuss digital accessibility with someone they state that none of their students have declared a disability. I then try to assure them that this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to accommodation. I use the example of having a temporary illness or injury to try to highlight the wider needs.
I am pleased to see more and more webinar systems having auto-captions as a user choice and also that people are getting better at describing the literal content on slides rather than skimming over that aspect. Attending AbilityNet webinars regularly keeps my knowledge up to date on this hugely complex area of my work.
Digital Learning Accessibility Statement: Ulster University – note select Digital Learning section on the page.
We have been asked a lot recently about captioning video and that has been covered in our summer webinar series. For those who need a short guide to auto-captioning, within Panopto, this video is a nice introduction by @slowtech2000 https://t.co/MVkDWe6DxX
— Office for Digital Learning (@UlsterUniODL) September 2, 2020
Ulster Training resource example I made – the original was made in Sway and this is the PDF version of that: Creating_inclusive_and_visual_online_content
3b: Understanding and engaging with policies and standards – Inclusion
Ulster University has an Electronic Management of Assessment Policy that had been implemented prior to the pandemic. This states:
“The Office for Digital learning can also provide support and guidance for making reasonable adjustments and for inclusive assessment design.“
This gave me to grounding to be able to provide robust support for staff in how to create assessment to give students flexibility and choice, during the pandemic as this became even more crucial. In all the webinars that I facilitated I emphasised again and again that not all students had access to a laptop, reliable internet connections or even a quiet room to do live lectures or assessment in to list a small number of the hurdles students had to navigate in an already traumatic situation. I then promoted how best to account for all these scenarios, such as discussing the benefits of open-book exams over closed-book, suggesting that students could choose the format that they submit an assignment in. Promoting opt-in activities, letting students choose the breakout group they join and providing a room called ‘other’ or ‘quiet reflection. After hearing about the frustration, from some teachers, at students declining to turn on cameras I collated a series of articles defending the many legitimate reasons as to why they don’t and why I don’t support mandating cameras on.
In addition, during the pandemic, I have been part of an initiative rolling out a series of inclusive practice webinars. This was an opportunity to bring my accessibility work beyond my department as well as beyond the digital, fitting perfectly into series. I saw this as a turning point as often people turn to technology to solve problems and easily tick boxes, however, it is important to acknowledge that it is only one small part of the inclusion picture.
As part of the organising committee for the series of webinars for Inclusive Learning, Teaching and Assessment, I have supported the delivery in Blackboard Collaborate, edit the recordings of each into discrete short parts, and am worked with a placement student to further develop the Digital Accessibility pages. I also co-delivered the session on Developing Accessible Content with a colleague in Student Wellbeing (Support).
An important element of this work is my contribution to the Recording Lectures policy and the Guidelines for Captioning at Ulster University. Being able follow along with the development of ALT’s ethical framework for Learning Technology through my role on the ALT Assembly means that I will get the opportunity to test this valuable framework within my own institution as part of the testing phase and beyond. Throughout the pandemic I was the main point of contact regarding captioning and led several seminars and demonstrations across all faculties and schools.
I find it difficult to differentiate between accessibility and inclusion and I tend to have a more rounded approach when supporting teaching colleagues, coming from a universal design for learning (UDL) perspective (Rose et al, 2006). As always I integrate this is all interactions, whether that is a technical support conversation, a webinar in using Blackboard Collaborate/Microsoft Teams or a session about techniques to engage learners in online/on campus spaces. Everyone has the right to feel valued and included, whether this is in a session, an assessment or utilising learning resources.
Being able to draw on the assessment, recording and captioning policies when in a webinar or one-to-one session afforded me weight behind my recommendations for providing flexibility and choice. I also, used the analogy of how I was supporting the person I was speaking to, to role model what I was saying. They were tried and stressed and so had the choice to book a one-to-one, watch a recorded webinar, go to a webinar or read the text based web page support. In this way, they could understand the need for multiple approaches to reach all of their students where they needed it.
Policies together with metaphors and analogies (not everyone likes coffee with cow’s milk, and wouldn’t expect to arrive at a conference to find only that option and nothing else) afforded me a way to connect with everyone in the room and convince them that inclusion is so much more than providing accommodations to disabled students. Widening participation students, international students, introverts, neurodiverse, those with caring responsibilities, those with jobs due to financial pressures and so many more make our student bodies rich and diverse and I will continue helping staff to gain the skills and knowledge to provide an inclusive learning experience for all. Going forward leading the curriculum design workshops will be a major element of this work.
Blog post summarising my Twitter thread on the Cameras off/on debate (an inclusive step in itself as many people do not use Twitter). The original Tweet had 63 quote responses and 20 replies, from across all education sectors.
Examples of some of these are:
- “Thank you for collating and sharing. This is extremely helpful and supports all that I have heard and read thus far.”
- “Interesting and thought-provoking articles in this thread”
- “Highly recommend this thread”
- “Thanks @slowtech2000. This is so helpful re the camera off on debate”
- “Good summary of why we should respect students choices about cameras during online teaching sessions. This year is tough enough already, let’s not make it any tougher for our students”
- “A must read collection of articles on the Cameras On? discussion (which really should not be a discussion). Thanks @slowtech2000 for an excellent thread”
Developing Accessible Content (my slides from the session)
For inclusiveness, I prefer to allow participants to choose the breakout room they want to go into and give them informal room names. Lesson learned yesterday, don't put *chocolate* in the name if you want an even balance of people between the rooms. pic.twitter.com/gk8IiPe5Bv
— Clare Thomson (@slowtech2000) March 11, 2021
We are now a few weeks into the semester with a phenomenal number of synchronous teaching sessions taking place on different platforms. However, it seems the camera on/off debate is still raging and I've collected some persuasive articles together to argue for student choice 1/n
— Clare Thomson (@slowtech2000) October 15, 2020
Copy-right-in-Canvas webinar for Queen’s University Belfast