Adventures in Technology Enhanced Learning @ UoP

Tag: disability

Digital Accessibility in Teaching and Learning – What is it?

‘Digital Accessibility’ or ‘Accessibility’ is a heated topic at the moment. Public sector bodies like us have the obligation by law to comply with Accessibility Regulations 2018 with a series of deadlines to meet. It is also an important part of our University Vision 2030 and Strategy 2025 where it says we should ‘respect and celebrate diversity and equal opportunity through an inclusive culture’. 

But what does ‘Digital Accessibility’ mean and how does it apply to us in teaching and learning? 

Before we look into that, let’s first find out what is ‘Accessibility’. 

What is ‘Accessibility’?

Accessibility is about removing disability. 

What is disability? Disability happens when there’s a barrier between people and their environment. It is commonly seen as a condition or a problem of the body or mind (impairment) that requires medical treatment. However, UK Equality Act 2010 recognised and acknowledged that disability, or barriers, can be caused not just by the impairment(s) but also by the way society is organised. This is defined in the social model of disability. According to the social model of disability, these barriers can be physical, like buildings not having accessible toilets, or they can be caused by people’s attitudes to difference, like assuming disabled people can’t do certain things [3]. For many people with impairment(s), the main barrier they experience does not stem directly from their bodies, but rather from their unwelcome reception in the world, in terms of how physical structures, institutional norms, and social attitudes exclude and/or denigrate them. [4]

This is where ‘Accessibility’ plays a part. 

Accessibility is about finding and dismantling these social barriers, creating an environment that adapts to the needs, ideally as early as possible in the process. For example: accessible toilets, lifts, wheelchair ramps, braille on printed materials, even simple things like left-handed scissors etc. When barriers are removed, disabled people can be independent, autonomous and equal in society.

Accessibility supports and celebrates inclusion; it should be ok to be different, with impairment(s) or not. It is about ending exclusion and oppression so that people with impairment(s) are not required to change who they are in order to be entitled to the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. 

What is ‘Digital Accessibility’? 

Digital accessibility is ‘Accessibility’ in digital media. 

It is about making digital products like websites, mobile apps and other digital tools and technologies accessible to everyone. It is the ability for all users to have an equal opportunity to access and benefit from the same services or digital products, regardless of any impairment(s) they may have. 

So, what is ‘Digital Accessibility’ in Teaching and Learning? 

Digital accessibility in teaching and learning is ‘Accessibility’ in digital teaching and learning products – the courses’ contents and activities, and the service we offer to our students.

It means all students are given access to all teaching materials and the ability to participate in all teaching and learning activities, regardless of any impairment(s) they may have. 

Taking digital accessibility on board in teaching and learning is very much about understanding that, if we’re creating inaccessible learning materials or activities, then effectively we’re responsible for creating barriers. These kinds of resources often lack structure, written and designed with a set of assumptions. It is about having the realisation when we create resources that fail to accommodate a certain group of students, effectively we have disabled them.

What ‘Digital Accessibility’ is not.

Now we know what digital accessibility is and its role in teaching and learning, let’s have a look at what it is not.

Misconception 1: digital accessibility is just about disability.

It’s not. Digital accessibility in essence is about inclusiveness and universality. 

It’s about having good design and making resources that can be used by as many people as possible.

I believe every student, in fact, everyone was once in one or more of the situations below; maybe even more than once:

  • In different cultural environments e.g. in a foreign country 
  • In a noisy environment or a public place where you can’t hear properly
  • Using many different devices e.g. desktop computers, mobile phones, tablets etc
  • Are temporarily or situationally impaired e.g. from injuries or with caring responsibilities
  • Have age-related cognitive decline.

In these situations, everyone can benefit from the flexibility brought by materials and activities designed with digital accessibility in mind. In fact, many of us use elements of them without particularly thinking about them. We might think that only disabled students use assistive technology, but, in fact, we are walking around with a kind of assistive device in our pockets all the time – our mobile phones. Have we not used and enjoyed its built-in accessibility functions like voice over, browser enlarge, colour changes, speech recognition, screen reader etc ever? When digital accessibility is put in place, everyone benefits including ourselves; inevitably everyone grows old and will eventually be impaired by age. So, essentially, we are just helping ourselves.

This video from the Web Accessibility Initiative shows a variety of ways that content produced to be accessible is beneficial for all users regardless of their ability or disability.

Misconception 2: digital accessibility is not my problem. 

Yes, it is. Digital accessibility is everyone’s responsibility. 

We’re all in this together. As mentioned before, it is required by law and it is the University’s Vision. More importantly, as an educational institution, we are responsible. We are the teachers and role models, what you do makes a difference. We can change and have the responsibility to lead the change in society’s perceptions and practice. We can create a society that accepts and celebrates that everyone is unique, recognises and encourages the strength and talents of people with impairment(s).

The whole purpose of providing education is to give the young the things they need in order to develop in an orderly, sequential way into members of society; to impact and change lives. Digital accessibility helps us fulfil that purpose. It provides us with an opportunity for education to reach everyone who needs it, in a way that can benefit as many people as possible. It gives us an opportunity to improve our teaching and learning materials to fulfil their purpose of existence. It is our responsibility to make that change. 

Misconception 3: digital accessibility is hard. 

No, it’s very easy. All you need is empathy and consideration. 

What you do at the start makes it easier at the end. Follow these good practices when designing and adding your content. When you start doing it, you will realise that most of them are really just common sense! Information should be consistent and easy to find, easy to read, and easy to navigate; documents need good structure and colour contrast; images and graphs are described well; videos have captions or transcriptions etc, just to name a few. It is all a matter of common sense. eLearning Tools website has all the support and information you need to create this kind of accessible content.

Remember that when you design and create your content with digital accessibility in mind, you will not only create better learning materials, you will have content that can be more easily reused and repurposed – saving a lot of time in the future!


  1. Codeacademy: What is Digital Accessibility
  2. Equality and Human Rights Commission: UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
  3. Social model of disability
  4. Rethinking disability: the social model of disability and chronic disease

Credit Image:Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Guest Blogger: Johny Cassidy – How technology enables me to do my job as a journalist

Johny Cassidy
Producer at BBC Business News

Johny’s Bio – Guest-blogger Johny Cassidy is a producer at BBC Business News and masterminded the BBC Disability Works week earlier this year. He tells us how using the latest technology enables him to do his job as a journalist – Johny is blind, so technology is an essential tool. He goes on to say that with greater understanding from employers, disability shouldn’t exclude anyone from the workplace.

“It’s fair to say that technology and the fast pace at which it’s developing has been pivotal to me in my job as a BBC journalist. It’s also not an exaggeration to say, that without it, I simply wouldn’t be able to do my job to the standard expected.

I began losing my eyesight when I was in my teens. The things that the majority of people take for granted slowly began to be taken from me. The simple pleasure of reading a book or accessing information became difficult, and then impossible. That’s when I began looking around to see how technology might be able to bridge that gap, which thankfully it has been able to do.

It’s vital for me as a business and economics journalist to have access to the same information as other people. A normal day will usually start and end with Twitter, which is all accessible for me on my iPhone through the voiceover function, which reads things on the screen out loud through headphones. Apple really changed the landscape for the majority of blind people when it first introduced the iPhone with this access technology built into the operating system as standard. Up until then I had to pay for a separate piece of software which was then integrated into the phone I was using. This was, whilst a useful tool to read texts and to access simple functions on the phone, a clunky solution which wasn’t really fit for purpose. The fact it cost over £600 also meant it was out of reach for a lot of people. Apple changed all that by levelling the playing field and by understanding the need for accessibility in their devices.

By using Twitter I’ve got a direct feed into the financial markets and business publications. I follow thousands of different feeds to ensure the information I’m getting is up to date and accurate. The fact as well that the majority of newspapers and magazines are also available to me on my phone means that, by the time my train to work gets into London, I am usually up to speed with the overnight developments in the business world. 

Once I’m in the office the phone is replaced by my laptop. Again this has a voiceover function which allows me to read the hundreds of emails waiting for me. I could of course do this on the train as well, but that time is usually set aside for gathering information.

Once emails have been waded through and either answered or deleted, I then start to look at what stories might be around for the next few days. As a forward planning producer I need to know what’s coming up in order to make sure the dozens of BBC programmes and outlets know what business stories they should be looking at. All these stories are held on a news diary which is, after a lot of collaboration with the developers, also accessible to me with the voiceover function on my laptop. This is perhaps one of the biggest problems I face at work. The myriad of different BBC applications, for news production, both TV and radio and online, all need to be accessible, which means it’s vital that I feed back into the developer teams if I come across any accessibility issues. All sounds pretty straightforward, but for an organisation as big as the BBC and with so many different points of contact, the process doesn’t always go as smoothly as perhaps it should.

Once stories have been identified for the next few days, it’s time to begin the meetings in order to explain to other producers and editors what they should be doing businesswise. My phone is again a really useful tool to take notes and have information I need at these meetings.

The BBC is a fantastic employer of disabled people. The fact that attitudes are finally beginning to change and that more employers are realising that disability isn’t a barrier to work means that the need for technology and solutions to problems will continue to be an ongoing battle. The biggest battle though is still trying to ensure that hiring managers understand that these solutions exist. Many disabled people have dozens of their own workarounds and socalled hacks they use every day in order to work or to simply live. The more people who know what technology as a tool can do in order to push more disabled people into employment the better.

I read a statistic recently which said that around 65% of the jobs our children will be doing when they reach working age don’t even exist yet. That’s a huge concept to try and understand, but it proves how fast technology is moving and the fact that we can’t stand still. We need to be constantly looking around for more innovative ways of harnessing technology in order to be able to do our jobs, whatever they may be.” 

Image credit: BBC News

Twitter: @johnycassidy

‘Disability Works: Breaking down barriers in business’ – article by Johny:

‘Tech Tent: Making tech work for everyone’ – article featuring Johny:

‘Disability Works Special’ – Tech Tent radio programme featuring Johny:

JAWS screen reader software:

‘Sit Down with Johny Cassidy’ – article featuring Johny:

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