Creating an accessible and inclusive learning environment is vital for any school to ensure each and every child has the same opportunity to benefit from the best possible education – regardless of their background or personal circumstances.

In fact, having policies and procedures in place to guarantee that this requirement is met has been enshrined in law since 2010. Under the Equality Act 2010 and the SEND Regulations 2014, UK schools have a duty to ensure that pupils with special educational needs and disabilities are able to take advantage of the same opportunities that are provided to their peers.

As online and digital tools become further engrained in learning and education, how do schools ensure that accessibility policies are maintained, regardless of the learning platform used?

A recent study carried out by Pearson found that 55% of surveyed educators felt that online or digital learning made it a challenge to provide students with a tailored or personalised learning experience. Moreover, a report by the Chartered College of Teaching revealed that 66% of SEND pupils struggled with remote learning through the pandemic.

Yet, it is widely recognised that remote and digital learning will remain a core part of a child’s education and, while there are certainly challenges for schools to overcome, the benefits are clear. Not only does it give students more control over their education, it also promotes further parental engagement and can improve children’s confidence in getting involved in class.

It is essential, therefore, that schools are able to combat the challenges of providing an accessible and inclusive online learning environment. But just how best can your school tackle this issue?

In our latest blog, our expert Digital and Learning team have pulled together the top considerations your school must take into account, and provide some helpful tips and tricks to get your strategies on the right track.

Top Tips For Making Digital Accessible

One of the biggest advantages of digital learning is the degree of user customisation that is afforded to students. And when customisation is possible, it is much easier for students to adjust tools and visuals to meet their own needs, without complex processes or long wait times.

With this in mind, it is important for schools to choose platforms that enable users to make helpful changes, such as adjusting on-screen colours, contrast levels, and fonts. For instance, if you’re looking for a new Virtual Learning Environment, consider what customisation options they provide, and how easy it would be for a student to access and make effective use of them.

Platforms such as Microsoft have these options built into many of their applications by default. This enables students with dyslexia, for example, to alter the background colour of text to improve the readability of resources.

Another area to consider is online menu structures and the ease of navigation. Students with impairments to motor skills may find it difficult to navigate with a mouse, particularly across multiple screens for an extended period of time. Platforms like Moodle have worked to ensure that website navigation can be performed mostly with individual keyboard presses, thereby alleviating the need for sustained physical activity.

Moreover, while thinking about navigation it is also important to consider the consistency of menu design, particularly for students with attention difficulties or who rely on ordered routines and processes. Multiple folders and sub folders can result in a virtual environment that is difficult for students to negotiate, so ensure that the interface is clean and consistent across the board.

Other areas to consider include:

  • Providing subtitled videos and using closed captions for virtual meetings
  • Using alternative text and description for images and complex diagrams, such as graphs and flowcharts
  • Ensure that screen readers are considered with link texts and naming conventions (e.g. ‘Click here’ isn’t very useful to a student who doesn’t have the visual context of a page to understand where they are being navigated to)

Building an Accessibility Strategy That Works

Making sure that your school has the right digital tools in place is just the first step in developing an effective and successful accessibility strategy.

While it’s important to know about the options that are available – particularly within free digital tools or the digital platforms already installed within your framework – there’s a larger picture to consider.

For instance, make sure staff, students and parents alike are able to access training on how to make the most of your accessibility tools. Don’t just target this training at students identified as having SEND requirements. The likelihood is that students beyond your identified target group may be able to make good use of these tools, or provide assistance to a classmate or friend. By making your strategy inclusive of everyone, you are far more likely to build out an extensive and supportive network for those with accessibility requirements.

We’ve already discussed the importance of enabling students to make customisations to online tools for readability purposes, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect these considerations during the online set-up.

Try to find a balance between text and images when designing your online environment. Quite often, the temptation is to rely heavily on words, but that can lead to VLEs and digital lessons becoming text-heavy, which in turn can mean that some students will find it more challenging to digest the information. Provide images or videos to explain complex ideas where possible – while ensuring they are accessible using alternative text and closed captioning where possible.

And finally, don’t forget to make use of accessibility checkers. These can either be built into platforms that your school is likely already utilising – such as Microsoft Office’s Accessibility Checker – or a free online tool. By using these checkers, you can analyse your website and digital platforms to check the legibility of documents or resources, based on your font choices and background colours.

Taking the Next Steps

There can be a lot of different things to consider when putting together your accessibility strategies, and getting it right is crucial.

At Eduprise, our digital learning experts are on hand to help you get your online resources right. Whether you’re looking to set up a new VLE for your school, or just improve the accessibility of your current solution, we’re here to help.

Get in touch today to discuss how the team can help create a solution tailored to you and your students.