August 1, 2023, by Ben Atkinson
The Digital Accessibility Conference: An Overview
On the 29th of June 2023, Learning Technology hosted a Digital Accessibility Conference at the University of Nottingham. It was in person and free thanks to libraries and the Teaching and Learning Committee, who supported the conference financially and were key backers in putting the event on.
Throughout the rest of this week, we will be reflecting on the inaugural Digital Accessiblity Conference. In this post, Chris Ward provides an overview of the whole event and outlines some of the key takeaways.
We had 275+ attendees from around the world coming to Nottingham, and we heard a great deal of positive feedback. We had forty-seven presenters and ran six sessions simultaneously across the day. It was the first and largest conference of its kind (so far!), so we have been able to present Nottingham as a key player in the field of digital accessibility.
The recordings from the sessions are live on the conference website.
The focus of the conference was on accessibility and cultural transformation. We wanted to emphasise the significance of envisioning a brighter future, establishing an environment for change, and maintaining that progress.
The papers at the conference encompassed three key themes:
- The first was concerned with the institutional machinery by which lasting change can be achieved. We wanted to hear what levers could be pulled to help make positive effects take hold.
- The second was embedding best practice, which was about the different elements required for the institution to tackle a wide range of accessibility challenges. This included understanding capabilities of technologies and using strategies to reap the benefits.
- The final theme focused on the Inclusive Curriculum, placing emphasis on digital learning materials, learning design, and the student experience.
Conference attendees delved into innovative solutions, shared best practices, and identified upcoming challenges. Delegate discussions extended beyond technical accessibility to emphasize the value of empathy, understanding, and collaboration.
The Key Takeaways
- There is an Entire sector engagement, Digital Accessibility is important across Higher Education and beyond. Every institution in the country and many abroad are engaging with the challenges of digital accessibility.
- I also saw that common idea across the conference was not trying to achieve a perfect but working with imperfect. We are never going to be able to get everything right, and a lot of the things we are doing might seem not enough.
- But nothing is too small. It is better to make small improvements rather than be too scared to do anything. We might not see the small changes but a small change at an institution the size of Nottingham would benefit more than just a handful of people.
- Improvements do not have to be hard either. Technology is accelerating our accessibility efforts and it is going to get easier as time passes.
Huge overlaps in higher education
I did not see or hear about anything that is completely different, largely we are all following the same routes. We have all been watching each other and forming our guidance commonly. There are a few institutional differences, and different technologies that have been bought, but it seems that across the country we are all doing the same things and facing the same challenges.
Institutions need to buy into technology and their people. Whatever technology is being used; it importantly needs institutions to “buy into” using them effectively. This is not just relying on technology, but a continual awareness and understanding why it needs to be used. Some of the universities consider digital accessibility in promotion criteria.
Also, something that kept coming up was a need to keep things simple. This means not over-using technology but putting thought and time into the reasons behind employing something. Basically, too many options can be overwhelming.
Finally, the cultural competency element is incredibly important. It is very easy to overlook things due to our own assumptions. As I found at Nottingham, other institutions found that students who faced in-accessibility felt that it was their fault. They presumed that they were at fault, not the inaccessible teaching content, and felt that they were not as smart as their peers.
It is important to make minor changes in our interactions to allow communication – without reaching a point of making someone feel bad. Simply, by improve staff cultural competency and awareness we can foster a greater sense of belonging in our university communities.
We would be keen to keep up the momentum and do it again next year. We are looking to form a committee to try and keep the conference going, it is the first in the UK and had a huge engagement. There is so much research and effort going on in this sector, and whilst it would be interesting to see what appetite there would be for hosting the conference again, there is a lot to be said about starting a roaming conference. We would like the format to thrive, and it is useful to gather everyone together who is working in similar ways rather than operating in our own bunkers hiding away from the world.
Key Note 1: The final barrier
Presenter: Gavin Henrick, Brickfield Education Labs
Key Note 2: Five years on – are we there yet?
Presenters: Amy Low (AbilityNet) & Alistair McNaught (McNaught Consultancy Ltd)
Throughout the rest of this week, we will be reflecting on the Digital Accessiblity Conference, with posts from colleagues who chaired some of the sessions during this inaugural conference.
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