Model Accessibility Statements – evolving the approach.

screenshot of guidanceJisc is pleased to be part of the Digital Accessibility Working Group. We work with the Digital Accessibility Regulations Jiscmail list to represent the HE and FE sector’s ‘digital context’ to Government Digital Services. This helps ensure guidance on the new legislation is meaningful and appropriate to the sector. Find out more on Jisc support for accessibility.

This week we met to discuss accessibility statements. HE and FE institutions – by law – will have to provide accessibility statements on their website.

The law on accessibility statements

You will need to publish an accessibility statement from:

  • 23 September 2019 for new websites created from 23 September 2018,
  • 23 September 2020 for existing websites,
  • 23 June 2021 for mobile apps.

These have minimum requirements that will be audited. The audits will include things like what accessibility standards were used when building the site? Which elements of the site are not accessible? What are you doing about these?

The anxiety

This is causing anxiety for some organisations. They don’t know which (if any) accessibility standards were used, nor which parts of the site are compliant or non-compliant. It’s a good time to get an audit done – or even better – get your web developers on some accessibility courses. The latter is important. Far better that you know how to create accessible websites than you ‘have a go’ and pay for it to be corrected!

The opportunity

So accessibility statements are here to stay, but the big question is will they be any use? Does it help a disabled student to know “our website is AA compliant to WCAG 2.1 standard except for checkpoints 1.4.1, 1.4.2 and 1.4.3”?.

Our colleagues at Government Digital Services have asked us to come up with some sample accessibility statements that can attempt to bridge the gap between what is legally required and what is ethically useful.

The experiment

We’ve started to work on this with a threefold approach, recognising that there are elements that legally have to appear but that these elements are meaningless to users unless they are interpreted into plain English ‘can do’ statements. This is the plan we’re currently trying out and we’d love to get your feedback. We should have something specific to show you within a week but in the meantime feel free to comment on the process and principle…

  1. A core user focused accessibility statement along the lines of ‘as a result of creating this website to accessibility standards, these are the ways you can personalise and improve your experience…”. This will be genuinely informative to all users, not least those with disabilities. It may also give organisations a chance to point to their onsite assistive technology provision, study skills guidance etc.
  2. Links from the user-focused statement to:
    1. the technically focused legal requirement – on which auditing and reporting will take place.
    2. a plain English ‘exceptions’ report that will signpost and explain any accessibility failures. It is important to realise that some accessibility ‘failures’ are actually accessibility successes for other users. An example would be an interactive 360⁰ campus ‘walkthrough’. It could add immense value to students with mobility difficulties, autism or anxiety yet it would be completely inaccessible to a screen reader user. The exceptions appendix can report on failures that are being actively improved as well as explaining those that can’t be. It will also point to alternative resources or support.

Currently we’re hoping to produce an HE and local government version by mid to late March with an FE version shortly after.

What do you think of this approach?

Alistair McNaught – March 2019

4 replies on “Model Accessibility Statements – evolving the approach.”

Many thanks for this. Up to now we’ve had a university-wide accessibility policy that is augmented by statements for each module. This is necessary when individual modules may have different requirements. For example, content that uses special notations such as maths, chemistry and music that pose challenges for screenreaders and online interactive content that also pose challenges (e.g. activities based around maps and other visually rich environments). In general an explanation will be provided about alternative learning approaches but it is impossible to make all activities equally accessible.

Thanks, Alistair. This seems extremely useable and sensible. Your example of how the ‘walkthrough’ might be seen as a failure or a success is an important message to pass on to colleagues who need to adopt the mindset of ‘how is this adding value to which groups of users?’ Look forward to the exemplar.

Hi Alistair this seems like a direct and pragmatic approach. It certainly should be a good basic template to build on, as our experience and knowledge grows across the sector. I think it needs to be fluid enough to be responsive to the constant developments and changes to practice, technology and capabilities. I anticipate this will largely be informed by the continuously evolving W3C WCAG standards and the specific sector uptake of new technologies and practices in digital learning / teaching and support.
I hope the communal approach to facing this challenging legislation will continue as a creative and focused response, to provide a wider and more inclusive structure and service in our sector.
Cheers Ghizzi

Thank you for doing this – I feel that this is an important step.

I feel the language around digital accessibility is one of the main barriers to access, particularly as many professionals with a keen interest in this area find themselves as baffled by the language as other users.

I also like the idea of the plain language exceptions report -as with many areas of accessibility and inclusion, being up front and honest about both the potential benefits of particular features and their drawbacks for some groups, helps to remove anxiety about this work and prevent an overly cautious approach here. If this in turn drives attempts to overcome the barriers then all the better.

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