Accessibility for administrative staff

It’s easy to get preoccupied with accessible teaching and learning but much of the information a student requires comes from faculty administrative staff. Ben Watson, the University of Kent’s Accessible Information Advisor takes up the story…

At the University of Kent, we have been working closely with Jisc to implement mainstream adjustments and technologies to improve access to information for everyone. A great deal of our work has revolved around what goes on in teaching and research spaces but we felt it important that all areas of the information lifecycle were addressed and we, therefore, turned our attention to the role of administrative and support teams.

There is a temptation to give lots of information and set the bar as high as possible but it is equally important for objectives to be achievable and realistic, so it was important to prioritise some of the key things we think can be done to ensure a solid and clear level of accessibility in general communications.

What follows is a basic guideline for administrative staff to follow when creating documents and sending communications to students that we intend to pilot with three schools in different faculties across the institution.

We have called it the MATCHED approach:

  • Meaningful titles – Include a clear and searchable title for all communications and documents e.g. not just ‘Timetable’ but ‘Timetable for SO737 Literature and Society’.
  • Accessible Language – Use plain English and explain any acronyms used and provide clear points of reference for finding out more – such as clear signposting to useful links and contacts.
  • Timely – provide all communication and documentation as far in advance as possible. Developing a service level agreement stating that standard module notification and documentation will be prepared x weeks/days in advance (as appropriate) would be great. Early delivery will also enable students to make more informed module choices, undertake preparatory reading and organise their lives around tutorial timings as well as enabling students who need it the opportunity to access materials in alternative ways.
  • Centralised and consistent i.e. you can find all key communications in a repository page for reference so that if your email organisation is poor or you’re mainly working from a phone using text-to-speech etc. you can check back at a single central site and browse.
    • Consistent– use a consistent style in key documents e.g. Structure, styling, templates, so that people can become familiar with the layout and signposts to further information.
  • Heading based navigation – headings ensure that documents can be easily navigated.
  • Electronic first – Making material available online (e.g. electronically) is one of the best things you can do to make learning and teaching experiences more accessible to all. Electronic documents can be far more easily made to suit individual requirements using assistive technologies (e.g. the Sensus Access file conversion tool). The fact that electronic materials can be accessed remotely and at any time also mean that they are very helpful to part-time, distance and commuting students too.
    • Electronic submission should be supported too.
  • Descriptive hyperlinks ensure that hyperlinks make sense when read out of context e.g. when using a screen reader if visually impaired.

We will report back to this blog about our progress but we are very excited about the opportunity to ensure that all kinds of information exchange is anticipated and made as inclusive as possible in advance.

The acronym is potentially helpful, allowing us to match the experience of a disabled student to that of a student without a disability. It also enables us to match accessibility guidance to the relevant tasks administrative staff do.

Ben Watson, Accessible Information Adviser, University of Kent, Keynes College, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NP – www.kent.ac.uk/accessibility

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