Universities and online schools in North America aren’t the only ones looking to make their course materials more accessible. Legislation in the United Kingdom, including the Equality Act of 2010 (EQA), has driven universities and online schools in the UK to provide greater accessibility to their students.
Rather than view the tools deemed necessary to make materials accessible as requirements to be implemented to prevent lawsuits, more research continues to be released showcasing the benefits of providing these tools to all students. For example, adding captions to videos to help deaf or hard of hearing students can actually benefit the entire student body. Captions provide all students with more choices for course content consumption, which accounts for the different learning styles and preferences of today’s diverse student bodies.
When getting back to the law, the UK’s EQA is comparable in nature to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA is the main legal requirement that encouraged US universities to take action with regard to creating more accessible, inclusive learning environments. The recent case settled by Harvard University has only driven other institutions to make inclusion and accessibility priorities.
The EQA encompasses accessibility requirements for those who are disabled and also protects civil rights as they pertain to gender, sex, age, religion, political affiliation or sexual orientation. Accommodations as outlined by the EQA are required by public entities, universities and employers in the UK.
These accessibility stipulations are also more important than ever for British colleges and universities, as more course content becomes available online and with the growth of online program offerings.
Necessary accommodations include providing Braille, large-print, or screen reader versions of coursework to students who are blind or have low vision, as well as providing transcripts and captions on videos being consumed by students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
The digital accessibility standards set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) are also held to a high regard internationally. These standards, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) exists in two versions: 1. 0 and 2. 0.
The first standard looks at whether web pages must, should or could accommodate all users. The second version examines the degree to which a site observes four design values regarding accessibility: making online content perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.
Well established British universities mention WCAG in their accessibility policies. For example, Oxford University adheres to Level-AA standards of WCAG 2. 0, while the University of Cambridge requires that all new web pages conform to at least WCAG 2. 0 level AA – or AAA whenever possible.
At even the lowest level of compliance, time-synchronized subtitles must appear on pre-recorded video and transcriptions must be provided for audio content. Therefore, UK institutions must transcribe and caption their videos to meet basic accessibility standards.
In additional, aside from accessibility requirements to meet the needs of students with disabilities, it’s important to consider that the UK is known as a melting pot of languages and cultures. The proximity of its schools to other European countries encourages more students to study abroad in the UK.
For example, one third of University of Oxford students, including 17% of undergraduates, are internationals, and they come from over 150 countries. The University of Cambridge also consists of a diverse international student body, which is made up of over 9,000 international students from over 140 different countries. Around 25% of undergraduate students and over 50% of graduate students at Cambridge are from outside the UK.
International students are another category that can greatly benefit from technologies and tools initially designed to meet the learning needs of those with disabilities. Captions on videos can prove to be great aids to those learning in a language which is not native to them.
By providing additional technology and tools like captions and transcripts of lectures to all students, UK schools can also help to retain more international students by removing language barriers which may hinder their academic success.