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How Universities Can Make Graduation Days Accessible for Blind and Partially Sighted Students
This guide is for university graduation teams to ensure that the graduation ceremony experience for blind and partially sighted students is as accessible as possible.
It is crucial you get the planning and delivery of graduations right for blind and partially sighted students, so they can celebrate their time at university alongside their sighted peers. An accessible graduation experience makes the difference between a day to forget and a day to remember.
Accessible online platforms
Students are likely to need to register for their graduation, book their gowns and professional photos online. If these online platforms are not accessible, blind and partially sighted students will miss out on key parts of the graduation experience.
You should ensure the platform students are asked to use for graduation registrations complies with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. You should also ask those providing students with a service via an online portal, like photographers and gown hire companies, about the accessibility of their platforms.
Communicating with third parties is crucial. If the online platforms of external providers cannot be made accessible before your next graduation, your team should ensure blind and partially sighted students have access to support to complete the form.
Work with the student
Blind and partially sighted students will have mixed expectations about how accessible their graduation experience will be. It’s important to discuss this and explore their needs with them from the start.
Once you have been informed of the student’s needs, you have a duty to implement reasonable adjustments to support their inclusion in the graduation events being planned. Reasonable adjustments are the changes an organisation should make if a student’s disability puts them at a disadvantage to their non-disabled peers. When sending students information to register for their graduation, blind or partially sighted students should be asked if they would like to disclose the reasonable adjustments they need. The student should be given the option to disclose these reasonable adjustments via email, phone or in an in-person meeting. You should agree with a student in writing what you will provide and when.
You don’t need to be an expert in supporting blind or partially sighted students. The student themselves know the most about their own vision impairment and you should have access to colleagues in your university’s disability service to advise you on how best to implement reasonable adjustments.
Navigating the ceremony
The biggest concern many blind or partially sighted students have about their graduation is how they will access the venue and navigate the ceremony.
Every blind or partially sighted student will have a different way of navigating new locations. When arranging support for them it is important to accommodate their preferred way to navigate. This could look like:
- Giving the student a written guide in an accessible format to help them to navigate around the venue.
- Offering to seat the student closer to the stage.
- Providing accommodation and space for a student’s support worker or guide dog.
- Ensuring staff on and around the stage are aware of the student’s preferred way to navigate the ceremony and are ready to offer assistance if and when the student asks.
- Inform those providing students with a service on the day such as photographers and gown suppliers that students may require extra help.
It’s best practise to offer blind and partially sighted students a walk-through of the graduation ceremony one or two weeks before the graduation day. This will help orientate the student and gives them a chance to identify any arrangements which need tweaking. This will also give the student an idea of what to expect from the ceremony.
If the student would like a walk-through, arrange for a member of your team to meet with them at the venue. Show them where they will be seated and the route they will need to take during the ceremony. Once on stage, describe in as much relevant detail as possible what the student will need to do, where to stand and where they can find staff if they need support. Give the student the opportunity to feedback on any of their arrangements which need changing to allow them to navigate the ceremony easily.
We also recommend…
- Ensuring all graduation material, including ceremony programmes are in a student’s preferred accessible format.
- Reviewing your risk assessments to include potential hazards at the venue for someone who is blind or partially sighted which you may not have considered. For example, uneven flooring, stairs, and stage equipment.
- If the student would like to be guided through the ceremony by a member of staff, look at providing your team with information on sighted guiding. We recommend reaching out to your local Sensory Service or Guide Dogs who have created an instructional video on guiding a blind or partially sighted person.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. To ensure the student has the best experience at their graduation ceremony, ensure the student has access to and receives opportunities to speak with staff about their graduation before and during the day.
Getting it right
If you follow the recommendations in this guide, you can make a real difference to how a student feels about their time at university.
“It’s so important to think about blind and partially sighted students from the start of the planning process to ensure they have the same positive experience as their sighted peers. We work just as hard, if not harder, as our classmates and deserve to celebrate our successes just as much. I benefitted greatly from helpful staff on the day, however, more can and should always be done from the very beginning.
“We can’t always assume that the graduation venues will be accessible to us, so it is vital that graduation teams support blind and partially sighted students to put reasonable adjustments in place. My advice to those planning graduations is to ensure you communicate with the student and the venue about access needs and take responsibility for their implementation. Don’t leave it too late”. Rowan – Student Voices volunteer.
Our Student Support Service is here to support blind and partially sighted students aged 11+ to get the most out of their secondary, college and university education. We want to work with professionals like you to achieve this goal.
If you have any questions about making graduations accessible, please reach out to us by visiting our Student Support Service homepage.
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