Ignored: 80% of colleges fail on legal requirement to inform the visually impaired on accessibility

Specialist colleges have also been criticised for not meeting legal accessibility requirements

Specialist colleges have also been criticised for not meeting legal accessibility requirements

Eight in ten of the UK’s colleges and post-16 academies are failing to meet a legal requirement to provide information on how visually impaired or blind students can access learning, new research has found.

The report, Technology and accessibility in further education, also revealed that half of general further education colleges failed a ‘mystery shopping’ exercise where researchers requested this information.

One student with an impairment surveyed for the report said it “sometimes feels like I just get
ignored” by colleges, which “kind of makes me question my future”.

Researchers also found over 90 per cent of 23 specialist colleges audited have not met a legal requirement for a statement on accessibility on their websites.

Colleges’ compliance with accessibility rules worse than universities

Under The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No.2) Accessibility Regulations 2018, FE colleges are legally obliged to develop accessible websites, learning, teaching and assessment materials.

This can include giving users the option to change font size, for there to be sufficient contrast in the colours used, and for websites to sufficiently describe what is on a webpage so software that reads it out can properly explain to a visually impaired user what the page is showing.

Analysis of the websites of over 400 UK post-16 providers, including colleges, sixth forms
and 16-19 academies revealed only 13.36 per cent were compliant with the regulations – the lowest of all public sectors.

Forty-nine per cent of universities were compliant, while the most compliant was the police, with over 60 per cent.

“After three years of the regulations being in effect, for colleges to be significantly behind to this extent is symptomatic of a sector that is unable to react,” reads the report, carried out by
accessibility consulting company All Able.

Eight out of ten colleges do not provide useful or legally-required information

As part of the 2018 regulations, public bodies must produce accessibility statements, which helps disabled people navigate accessibility issues and signposts support.

The providers’ websites were analysed for their statements, and it was found 127 (29.7 per cent) had no statements publicly available, while 195 (45.6 per cent) provided poor advice in All Able’s view, and 34 (7.9 per cent) had statements that did not meet the regulations.

This means eight out of ten colleges do not provide information that is useful or meets legal requirements, according to the report.

Separate to this research, All Able analysed the websites of 23 UK specialist colleges that provide to young people with learning difficulties and disabilities and found 21 had no statement or a ‘poor attempt’ at one on their websites.

Researchers also contacted a sample of colleges via email or a web form as a blind
person looking to enrol who wanted to get in touch with the disabled student support service and find out about the accessibility of the college’s digital platforms.

Almost half of the colleges did not respond, and where colleges did respond, one-third could not say which virtual learning environment they used, which tells the student what technology they will need to access it.

Just three per cent gave legally required information on the accessibility of the learning environment or directed the person getting in touch to whether systems will be compatible with assistive technology.

Specialist provision system ‘under significant pressure’

The trust’s head of education, Tara Chattaway, criticised colleges for a “prevailing culture where student support departments are viewed as the only teams that have a responsibility to consider the needs of people with disabilities”.

The report reasons that the “system of specialist provision is under significant pressure,” citing a 2019 Royal National Institute of Blind People report showing just under half of local authorities have cut or frozen vision impairment education services.

It recommends “urgent” action to improve legal compliance, with the government targeting guidance on the requirements at college leadership.

Specialist providers’ network Natspec said it takes the recommendations “seriously,” and “will continue to work to improve accessibility for all students” through its assistive technology support service, TechAbility.

“We look forward to supporting the work of the trust and helping to ensure the new resources being developed are available to all our members,” a Natspec spokesperson added.

Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said colleges “take very seriously the need to be accessible for everyone, including blind and partially sighted students.”

He promised the association will “look carefully” at this report and is “keen to see what needs to be done”.

Latest education roles from

Tutorial Learning Mentor

Tutorial Learning Mentor

Barnsley College

Casual Teacher – Hospitality

Casual Teacher – Hospitality

Gateshead College

Casual Teacher – ESOL

Casual Teacher – ESOL

Gateshead College

Executive Director of Learner Services

Executive Director of Learner Services

Hull College

Casual Teacher – Early Years

Casual Teacher – Early Years

Gateshead College

Apprentice Development Leader

Apprentice Development Leader

GP Strategies

Sponsored posts

Sponsored post

How can we prepare learners for their future in an ever-changing world?

By focusing their curriculums on transferable skills, digital skills, and sustainability, colleges and schools can be confident that learners...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

Why we’re backing our UK skills ‘Olympians’ (and why you should too)

This August, teams from over 200 nations will gather to compete in the sticky heat of the Paris summer...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

Is your organisation prepared for a major incident?

We live in an unpredictable world where an unforeseen incident or environmental event could disrupt a Further Education (FE)...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

A new chapter in education protection!

Gallagher is a specialist in the Further Education sector, working with over 75% of Further Education colleges in the...

Advertorial

More from this theme

Inclusion, Long read, Students

From veterans to refugees: City Lit’s silent revolution in deaf education

For more than a century, London’s City Lit has been a global beacon of hope and empowerment for deaf...

Jessica Hill
Inclusion

WorldSkills UK reveals 2023 equity, diversity and inclusion heroes

Winners included an apprentice who developed a financial literacy course for her community while also promoting apprenticeships in local...

Shane Chowen
Inclusion

The college gender gap narrows, but slowly

While the gender pay gap has improved on average at most colleges, sector leaders have said the rate of...

Will Nott
Inclusion, SEND

SEND review ‘disappointing’ for FE

The government's planned reforms to the SEND education system do not go far enough for FE learners, leaders say.

Shane Chowen

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *