Our ‘Give me access to college’ campaign is calling for blind and partially sighted students to have equal access to post-16 education. Find out more about the campaign and hear the voice of students!Find out more about 'Give Me Access to College'
Step 4: Engage with Students
Supporting students from the first contact
Our research into the accessibility of further education found that colleges often didn’t know how to respond to initial queries from blind and partially sighted students.
Following these basic steps will help to address this:
- Ensure front-facing communications and marketing teams, student support teams, and academic staff know who the college’s disability support teams are and how to contact them
- Make sure frontline staff are aware of the basics of handling questions about disability support and accessibility from prospective or current students and have all the relevant information to hand to answer these queries.
- If front line communications staff cannot immediately answer disability or accessibility related questions, they should forward emails on to the college’s disability support teams and make the student aware of this.
- Put clear response deadlines in place and ensure that queries are followed-up and resolved.
What questions do you need the answers to?
To support front line communications staff in answering common questions disabled students might have, it is a good idea to engage with current disabled students to ask them what they would have wanted to know before joining the college and find out what they might ask.
To get started, questions could include:
- Who is your SEND / ALS / disabled student support contact?
- Who do I speak to if I have a disability?
- Where is the accessibility statement for your website, virtual learning environment etc?
- What internal platforms do you use that I might struggle with? E.g., virtual learning environments (Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas etc.), Teams, Zoom, Office 365 etc.
- How can I get support with completing your application process?
- Who do I speak to about my Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP)?
Prepare answers to these questions and ensure the college’s communications staff have this information to hand.
Create a community
Colleges should organise engagement with all students to foster an inclusive community. Talking about disability and accessibility can encourage everyone to be more aware of accessibility barriers and actions we can all take to create a more inclusive environment.
Engaging with the entire student body on these subjects can help everyone to develop more accessible practices in the content we all create, be more inclusive in class and group work and develop skills which are useful in their future workplace.
Support students in using assistive technology
Blind and partially sighted students in further education should be supported to develop skills and confidence in the use of assistive technologies and alternative format techniques, as well as being encouraged to self-advocate to ensure their needs are always met.
Standardise the use of assistive technology
To change the way the use of assistive technology is perceived in the learning environment and to create a more inclusive experience, colleges should think about the following:
- Run sessions as part of ‘learning skills’ modules to support de-stigmatisation and normalisation of accessibility adjustments and tools.
- Change the way assistive technology is talked about, so that these tools are considered as productivity tools, rather than something special.
- Deliver ‘empathy lab’ sessions focussed on blockers to learning and access needs, and what everyone can do to be more inclusive.
The University of Kent Software Finder incorporates assistive technologies as standard resources alongside other university software to promote productivity.
Encourage awareness of accessibility barriers and fixes
Students understanding accessibility barriers, access needs and actions they can take will prepare them for life in the working world with a further employability skill.
We recommend colleges embed accessibility training for all students as a core employability skill. This provides the additional benefit of sighted students on the same modules as blind or partially sighted students gaining a better understanding of how they can support inclusion in class, group work and presentations.
This guidance has been created in response to research from All Able Ltd and Thomas Pocklington Trust that looked at blind and partially sighted students’ access to information and assistive technology in mainstream FE. This showed a lack of inclusive practice creating a barrier to accessibility. Read about this research
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