According to UK statistics, 13 percent of students entering British universities have a disability. Accommodations are essential to help these students fully participate in their coursework and thrive in higher education settings.

Technology is constantly evolving to offer support to higher education students who are navigating disabilities. However, the UK’s laws surrounding accommodations can often be unclear. Some higher education leaders, therefore, struggle to understand their obligations to provide access to their student bodies.

Avoiding potential anti-discrimination lawsuits is essential, and fortunately, many universities are taking steps to proactively improve access to students learning with disabilities.

Delving into UK Disability Laws

The UK’s Equality Act of 2010 replaced a piecemeal approach to anti-discrimination laws. Instead of 116 separate laws aimed to avoid violations of civil rights, the EQA demands the protection of individuals living with disabilities. It aims to prevent discrimination of anyone based on protected categories, such as age, sex, religion, sexual orientation and political affiliation.

Thanks to the EQA, universities, as well as employers and public entities, must meet accessibility requirements and make reasonable accommodations for people living with disabilities. Educators’ obligations extend to e-Learning platforms, online course materials and other multimedia programs that universities implement as a part of their curriculums.

It’s important to note that the EQA does not provide details regarding specific accommodations for electronic access. University leaders can therefore reference a few reliable sources to ensure compliance and make their courses accessible to all students.

How To Ensure Compliance When Laws Lack Clarity

Universities in the UK may turn to British Standard 8878 for disability accommodation guidance. The British Standard Institution created this publication in 2010, and it covers accessibility and quality standards for websites, apps, email and other software. The BSI guidelines are not mandatory, but many institutions use this document to inform accessibility-related policies.

Another valuable source of information is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The World Wide Web Consortium(W3C) creates standards for web accessibility and advises decision-makers worldwide. W3C sets a tiered system that details three levels of accommodations, A, AA and AAA. The AAA standards are the most stringent among the tiers and provide for the highest level of accessibility.

Top UK universities rely on the WCAG tiered system. For instance, The University of Cambridge requires that all of its existing web pages comply with level A of the WCAG 1.0 and sets a goal of AAA conformance with new pages whenever possible. All new pages must at least meet AA standards.

The University of Oxford also uses W3C guidelines and aims to meet AA standards based on WCAG 2.1 for all its pages. Those requirements include ensuring captioning for all audiovisual information. Oxford leaders also acknowledge that they need to update some older content to ensure it meets the university’s current policy. Adding captions to university courses and videos is one quick fix to help schools instantly become more accessible.

Modern AI Closed Captioning Technology

To comply with the law and offer equitable education access, UK universities should offer captioning of audiovisual content whenever possible.

Verbit’s closed captioning and transcription solutions are being used by schools throughout the UK, such as the Royal College of Art, the University of Glasgow and the London Business School, to help them meet compliance standards. Verbit offers these schools 99% accurate captions and transcriptions, a level that free solutions cannot reach. As a result, their students are offered equitable experiences and can actively engage in lectures and course discussions in real-time. Verbit also makes these tools more interactive so that students using them can benefit from additional study materials, note-taking and more.

Evolving Services for UK Students with Disabilities

Up until recently, many university efforts involved individual accommodations for students who report their disabilities. However, digital tools and platforms can now help them meet the needs of a variety of students. Accurate technology tools allow universities to provide students and the general public with unrestricted access to their resources. Proactively providing these tools can also foster more independence among students with disabilities who no longer need to report their need for individual accommodations.

Additionally, offering closed captioning to the full class can help more than just the students who are hard of hearing. For example, students who are learning in languages not native to them or rewatching lectures while commuting and cannot play the audio out loud can benefit as well.

Offering access to class recordings, captions and additional accessibility tools can improve the education experience for the entire student body. It also follows Universal Design for Learning principles, offering students more choice in their learning. UK universities with commitments to accessibility, UDL and inclusivity will find that their efforts will improve the learning experience for their whole student body.

If you’re interested in learning more about Verbit’s educational accessibility solutions, contact us at info@verbit.ai.