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FE colleges failing blind and partially sighted students

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All further education (FE) colleges are legally obliged to develop accessible websites, learning, teaching and assessment materials but new research reveals a lack of awareness, engagement and compliance across the sector (@TPTgeneral).

The research, conducted by All Able Ltd on behalf of Thomas Pocklington Trust, looked at blind and partially sighted students access to information and assistive technology (AT) in mainstream FE.

It found eight out of ten colleges in the UK do not provide the legally required accessibility information on their websites.

The research tested the pathways blind and partially sighted students may use to find out about support a college may provide. The responses indicated a worrying mixture in the quality and usefulness of information provided to prospective blind and partially sighted students and almost half (45%) of colleges contacted did not even respond.

Tara Chattaway, Head of Education at Thomas Pocklington Trust, said:

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“Every blind and partially sighted student should have access to a quality college education but our research shows there is a lack of inclusive practice creating a barrier to accessibility. This was seen in inaccessible software, systems and processes, and a prevailing culture in colleges where student support departments are viewed as the only teams that have a responsibility to consider the needs of people with disabilities.”

The report recommends urgent actions that Government, college leadership and college staff must take to improve support for blind and partially sighted students. These include:

  1. Improve legal compliance with accessibility regulations across the FE sector for digital systems and learning resources.
  2. College leadership should deliver an accessible-by-design approach in FE colleges.
  1. FE colleges must support Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND)/Assisted Learning Support (ALS) teams to encourage organisational adoption of inclusive mainstream accessibility practices.
  2. FE colleges must ensure access to accessible technology and effective training for partially sighted students in FE.
  3. FE colleges should embed accessibility training for all students in FE colleges as a core employability skill.

Practical recommendations for colleges to embed an accessible-by-design approach include:

  1. Implement a digital accessibility policy, making it clear that delivering an accessible-by-design approach is the responsibility of all staff, not just SEND/ALS teams.
  2. Map the college digital estate, identify accessibility issues for each website / platform / learning resource system and prioritise remediation.
  3. Ensure policy and processes are in place and followed by digital content teams. Creators of web pages and learning resources must deliver content which meets basic accessibility standards.
  4. Invest in training to support staff in learning basic accessibility principles and adjustments to improve and create accessible content.
  5. All colleges must not procure new digital systems that do not meet accessibility standards.
  6. Engage with students to foster a more inclusive community.

To view the executive summary, full report and our ‘Making college accessible guide’ visit Thomas Pocklington Trust website.

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