Research to Inform Back To School Decisions

By: Verbit Editorial

Verbit’s team recently commissioned a survey, Higher-Ed Accessibility Uncovered, to deep-dive into the accessibility and inclusion measures being taken at today’s institutions. The team wanted to explore the knowledge and decision-making processes of today’s higher-ed professionals to inform our community as they head back to school this fall. Additionally, the team wanted to gain an understanding from students with disabilities themselves, who these institutions aim to serve. With so many students not coming forward to report their disabilities needs, a gap often commonly appears of institutional leaders’ awareness and perception of providing an accessible learning environment and whether one is truly being provided to students. 

Are today’s institutions on track to help these students or are they missing the mark?

Read the analysis of Keren Kaplan and Dr. Elisha Rosensweig of Verbit’s research team below. Dr. Rosensweig, Head of Data Science at Verbit. Elisha holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from University of Massachusetts Amherst and a M.Sc. in Computer Science from Tel Aviv University. Prior to his four years at Verbit, he served as Head of Israel Engineering at and as an R&D Director at Nokia, formerly Alcatel-Lucent. He regularly speaks on panels and is an expert in data and its implications on AI, transcription, captioning and more. 

Analysis of Responses

The Students Surveyed: 100 students with disabilities were surveyed who reside in 8 different areas, including the US, Canada, Australia and the UK. Results were collected from 3 different age groups, with 92% of the participants being 18-24.

Noteworthy Results:

  • When the students were asked about the greatest pain points in the technologies that they are currently using for accessibility, the 2 main problems cited were: Complicated to use (35%) and Lack of accuracy (28%).
  • It seems that 70% of students use the accessibility tools that the school offers.
  • 68% of the students answered that the use of accessibility tools changes the learning experience and the engagement in studies.
  • When the students were asked if their school appears to be committed to creating an inclusive, accessible environment to help all types of students, 65% answered “yes”.

A bar graph of the responses.
The Staff Surveyed:
141 participants from the same 8 different areas were surveyed. These higher-ed professionals sit within 10 different departments at their institutions. To gain an understanding of their closeness and connection to students themselves, the team bucketed these individuals into three categories:

  • Direct contact with students: Accessibility office, IT office, Teacher / lecturer, Learning technology & innovation, Student services, Distance learning department
  • Administrators: Leadership, Dean’s office
  • Other: Libraries, Marketing/communications at campus

Interesting Questions Answered by Data:

Question explored:
What percent of people (perhaps broken down by division) is unaware of the status of the institution with respect to accessibility, as multiple questions allowed respondents to indicate answers of “I don’t know.”

When people from the Accessibility Department were asked about the challenges that prevent their school from investing more in accessibility, 42.1% of their answers were related to lack of knowledge or lack of awareness.

  • From the Distance Learning Department, 43.75% of their answers were related to lack of knowledge/ awareness.
  • Among Lecturers, who probably have the highest interaction with the students, 40.86% of the answers were lack of knowledge/ awareness.
  • It seems that in the Student Services Department, this percentage is the lowest, only 23.8% of the answers were related to lack of knowledge.
  • When survey participants were asked about the tools/technologies that the institution uses for accessibility purposes, only 1.42% of the participants answered “I don’t know.” These respondents assumed Leadership and Lecturer roles.

Question explored:
Looking forward, what is the expectation for more virtual classes to be offered?

We see that 41.13% of classes are going to still be online in the fall semester, and 38.30% of classes are going to be hybrid. Therefore, universities might still need to strengthen their virtual accessibility infrastructure to best serve these students.

Question explored:
What is the most common tool? (and perhaps also the most effective?)

It seems that the three most common tools among the institutions that participated in the survey, to provide accessibility are:

  1. Recording and then transcribing lectures
  2. Providing notetakers
  3. Providing live captioning and transcriptions

Question explored:
What is holding the schools from investing more in inclusion & accessibility as a result COVID?

The answers were divided as follows:

  • Lack of knowledge and awareness (39.14%)– “I don’t know”, “Not sure what to choose”, “Lack of staff knowledge”, “Lack of awareness of existing solutions”.
  • Problems are with resources (50.00%)- “Lack of time”, “Lack of budget and/or resources”, “Lack of buy-in for accessibility”, “Lack of buy-in for Universal Design”.
  • All is good (4.57%)- “No additional investments”
  • Students not reporting their disabilities (6.29%)- “Students not reporting their disabilities”

Question explored:
What is the correlation between the percentage of students with disabilities, and the percentage of video content that is captioned?
A bar graph of the correlation between the percentage of students with disabilities, and the percentage of video content that is captioned

34.75% of those surveyed answered that they offer subtitles for more than 50% of their classes. This is despite the fact that 44% of the survey participants answered that less than 10% of the students in their school have reported disabilities.

Check out the full survey report here to help inform fall back to school decisions and ensure awareness of the top challenges students with disabilities. Readers will also gather important insights on the struggles faced by their higher-ed peers, on accessibility technologies like captioning and transcription and other tidbits that can help them in offering greater support and guidance this fall.