Digital Inclusion: Are you pleasing most of the people most of the time?

In the two workshops I delivered on the recent programme pilot my aim was to convince digital leaders of the potential organisational benefits and cost efficiencies of planning to be inclusive.

My argument? That Digital leaders should take a strategic approach and add inclusion criteria into all key policies. Because Policy defines practice – through shared values like promoting learner independence we ensure learners are supported to study independently, are more productive and successful and require less support. More importantly, everyone will know what learners are entitled to.

First I made the case for inclusion and asked some searching questions.

Funding and legal changes including the Equality Duty, SEN COP, Disabled Students Allowance and copyright exceptions for disabled students have created new duties and responsibilities in procurement and practice for institutions. How are you responding?

Why exclude people when you dont have to? Technology allows us to meet more people’s needs than ever before. Those with disabilities, those who prefer not to disclose, and many others who may not have come for help. The more people included to start with the less additional support they will need now and in the future.

What are the consequences to the organisation and to the learner of not meeting their needs and expectations? Poor outcomes for both, plus the extra cost of individual support.

The conclusion? Inclusive practice is now key to ensuring student satisfaction, improving retention and achievement and central to inspection and compliance.

Are we creating the barriers and then providing ladders and bridges?

Though many disabled people are digital residents – fluent users of technology – they are treated as ‘visitors’. This can’t be the most effective way of working. We looked at the many ways technology supports differentiated learning and asked “Does your teaching and learning and ILT policy take this approach?”

Increasingly there are examples of people for whom their technology is a life-line not a life-style choice because it supports their independence. Should they expect access to Wi-Fi all the time, everywhere? “Does your BYOD and other policies prepare for this?”

Are we improving digital capability for everyone? The educators’ role is to help everyone to support themselves in a fast changing digital landscape, now and in the future.

Does your ILT / Teaching & Learning Policy support levelling the playing field?

Then we discussed sector challenges and some technology based solutions.

FELTAG proposals to increase online delivery in FE will have particular implications for learners with disabilities who may experience more barriers to accessing course content.

Proposed changes in the way that some disabled people are funded in HE for non-medical support will place a huge requirement for alternative formats and study support on institutions.

It is a reasonable expectation that all learners can access all course materials. This will require an inclusive approach to policy and the procurement of ILT such as e-books, hardware and software as well as accessible course design, VLE materials and the provision of alternative formats to work.

Assistive technology and productivity tools will also have a large role to play in ensuring all learners can participate fully in all aspects of courses and are properly supported and motivated to achieve their learning objectives.

Finally -putting it into practice with some action planning to be inclusive.

Ideas on reflecting inclusion in policy were gathered on a collaborative PADLET. They included:

  • Reflect accessibility in key policies including your marketing and promotion strategy so everyone knows what’s valued and expected.
  • If procurement policies are pro-actively inclusive, digital investments will be checked for accessibility and usability at the start of the process and avoid problems and expense further down the line.
  • Equality policy could actively suggest inclusive practices from marketing and recruitment through to Teaching & Learning.
  • E-learning plans should include inclusive criteria so courses and curricula are designed to be accessible from the start.
  • An accessible IT policy aims for the infrastructure to support accessible Mobile / BYOD, the use of rich media and widely available assistive technologies and productivity tools.
  • Staff are using and buying accessible assets such as software and library platforms and using whiteboards and devices to support inclusion because there are criteria in Teaching & Learning and Quality Assurance policies.

Links to this and other Jisc resources to support inclusive practice can be found in the slide deck.