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accessibility regulations compliance FE colleges

Accessibility monitoring: is your college ready?

By Kellie Mote and John Kelly.

Many colleges are still getting to grips with public sector bodies accessibility regulations introduced in 2018.

One further education provider, let’s call it college A, recently sought our help after being informed by the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) – formerly Government Digital Service – that its website didn’t meet the new requirements.

The college said that seeing the report “felt very daunting”. It went on to explain:

“It was unclear where on our website we were failing to meet the standards and how. Without our own in-house web development team much of it felt like jargon and the timeframe we were given to correct the issues felt overwhelming, particularly when we’re already tackling challenges created by the pandemic.”

Receiving a report

As you can imagine, receiving a negative report from CDDO can be an unpleasant, and potentially serious, wake-up call. We wanted to share some tips, so you are prepared if this happens to you.

If your organisation is selected for random monitoring, you will receive a report detailing which web pages were tested for accessibility, how they were tested, and what problems were found, according to WCAG 2.1 AA success criteria, and what to do next.

Don’t panic!

While fixing all the problems might seem like a huge task, especially if you don’t have in-house expertise, Jisc can guide you through the process. We provide a range of support to help your organisation become digitally accessible.

You’ll be given a tight window of 12 weeks to respond to a report. It may be tempting to look for an extension, but taking swift action will help avoid your case being escalated to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

We can help you formulate a response to the report. Our initial advice is to fix what you can within that 12-week limit, and produce a plan for how you will improve accessibility over time, including as much detail as possible.

The IT team at college A suggested contacting Jisc for support. The college said:

“Jisc set up a virtual meeting with our team to find out more about what we do and where we were finding challenges. Being able to have a conversation with someone with an understanding of both the regulations and our team’s capacity helped us identify a starting point.”

An important element of complying with the accessibility regulations is compiling a full and clear accessibility statement and publishing it on your website. College A continued:

 “Jisc showed us good sample statements and advised on the legal language we needed to use. They also showed us web2access, an online testing tool that allowed us to better investigate and understand some of the accessibility issues our website had. Once we had prepared a statement, Jisc’s legal subject specialist reviewed and fine-tuned it and the statement was accepted when our site was retested.

“It was extremely useful to work with Jisc’s experts, who took the time to better understand the challenges for us, not only in adhering to standards, but in gaining the knowledge we need in order to increase our accessibility.”

Benefits for all

In addition to being a legal requirement, providing accessible information is a key component of delivering a good digital student experience.

As well as ensuring that disabled students can access what they need, all visitors will benefit, too. Accessible content displays more optimally on a mobile phone and is easier to understand, instantly connecting you with a wider audience. It also demonstrates you are a digitally confident college, committed to providing a quality online experience for everyone.

Jisc provides guidance and community resources to support you on your accessibility journey. Make a start with some practical steps to meeting accessibility regulations and find out how others are making positive changes in our supportive accessibility community. This community has formed a working group focused on the college experience.

Lasting change

Receiving a report from CDDO should not be seen as a one-off event. For many, it is a call to action with the results incorporated into strategic priorities. It is also an opportunity for your staff to acquire new digital skills, as college A discovered:

“We have been working with other colleges to increase accessibility knowledge across staff. We have also scheduled a large investment into working with an external web developer to improve our accessibility.”

Here to help

If you would like practical advice on accessibility, contact your Jisc account manager.

Photo by Tonik on Unsplash

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