Improving accessibility for online resources
Heart of Worcestershire College and National Star
Accessibility testing for website and online resources by Kayleigh Hunt, National Star
It was really important to me to be able to engage in something as important as accessibility. I’m pleased I was approached through the Student Union to advise.
A National Star Student Union member, 2022.
The accessibility of resources posted online is often neglected or poorly understood. The Heart of Worcestershire College, as part of the Blended Learning Consortium, sought to confirm their status as a leader in creating accessible resources, suitable for all learners needs by working in collaboration with National Star.
They were acutely conscious of the requirements of learners with additional needs. The Heart of Worcestershire College turned to National Star, a partner in the EdTech Demonstrator Programme, for support. Heart of Worcestershire asked to work with National Star to assess their resources and better understand how to develop the necessary skills in-house.
National Star, a national centre of excellence providing learning programmes for young people with complex disabilities and medical needs, is ideally placed to help Heart of Worcestershire College assess their resources and better understand how to develop the necessary skills in-house.
Student voice is at the heart of National Star’s work, so asking the Student Union to sample the Heart of Worcestershire’s online resources was appropriate. As young people with a range of disabilities, including Dyslexia and ADHD the Student Union members know first-hand the barriers, they regularly encounter. Their diverse range of needs ensured that National Star could be rigorous in its analysis. We also asked some National Star staff to help in the research.
Undertaking the Assessment
A bespoke set of fields for exploration were devised to create accessible methods for gathering the research. A rigorous set of parameters were agreed and embedded into online and paper-based records. The research team attended staff meetings and Student Union sessions in person and virtually. It was agreed to conduct the research anonymously.
Staff and students were given the option to engage in the accessibility research task using Widgit symbols, pictorial prompts, screen readers, dark modes, scaling text, overlays and all personalised communication devices, including all Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) devices.
The Student Union team tested different inputs and modes for accessing the resources. They studied the use of the voiceovers and made positive suggestions for improvements. They applied text to speech voice supports, screen readers and Widgit to help with user accessibility. The students worked in a combination of small teams and as individuals.
The staff cohort worked independently. The majority chose to complete their reviews using the template provided. They found the template useful with the prompts giving additional guidance for what was to be trialled.
Once the research was completed it was shared with the team at the Blended Learning Consortium (BLC).
As a result of the research, the Heart of Worcestershire College has adopted many of the suggestions and has access to more accessible forms for continued self-assessment. This has improved its online accessibility.
For the National Star students, it was an incredibly empowering experience to be asked to assess a mainstream college’s resources, make recommendations and to see them introduced.
Impact for Heart of Worcester and the Blended Learning Consortium
The research with National Star staff led to the college re-evaluating accessibility for its own staff resources and what it could do to improve.
Through the EdTech Demonstrator Programme, National Star and Heart of Worcestershire College can share that learning and support with other schools and colleges.
Statement from Heart of Worcestershire College:
Accessibility is the highest priority for the team of content developers at Heart of Worcestershire College as they produce hundreds of online resources each year and strive to ensure the resources are accessible for all. The feedback from students at staff at National Star has been invaluable as it is directly coming from a user’s perspective and gives us a deeper insight into the user experience. The team have already put into place many of the suggestions from National Star and we look forward to working closely with them in the future.