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Notes from the Joint Accessibility SIG and Pedagogy Forum Meeting
Sharon Perry
23rd May 2005
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Notes from the Joint Accessibility SIG and Pedagogy Forum Meeting

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Click on topic (5 topics) to move to section:
Dyslexia Friendly: User Friendly (An Inclusive Approach to Accessible Learning Materials).
Building on the Standards.
Pedagogy Before Technology.
Pedagogy and Accessibility.

The Joint CETIS-TechDis Accessibility SIG and CETIS Pedagogy Forum Meeting was held at the University of Wales Bangor, on 23rd May 2005.


Dyslexia Friendly: User Friendly (An Inclusive Approach to Accessible Learning Materials).
by Pete Rainger, Key2Access.

Pete Rainger gave a presentation on the Dyslexia Friendly: User Friendly campaign and about developing an inclusive approach to the design of e-learning materials.

The Dyslexia Friendly: User Friendly campaign was recently launched at the House of Lords. It covers:

  • Education - ADO (Adult Dyslexia Organisation) will cover basic skills and adult literacy and will work with LearnDirect, UfI (University for Industry) and the Open University. They will be looking at work-based learning and will also work with trades unions and other support groups.
  • Employment - supporting people with dyslexia or learning difficulties in employment and also employers who have dyslexia or learning difficulties.
  • ICT (Information and Communication Technology) - including AT (Assistive Technology) support.
  • Day-to-Day - access to local and central government services.

The campaign will be a long-term one and one of the main outcomes so far has been the launch of the ADO website, which is still under development. The site will act as a key resource for people with dyslexia and for people looking for information about dyslexia. Information about dyslexia and details of dyslexia-related organisations are scattered all over the web, so the ADO website aims to bring this information together in one place and to encourage people to talk across the different sectors. Sets of guidelines and best practice resources will also be drawn up.

The ADO will also work with groups of disenfranchised adult learners, especially those in prison or doing community service, many of whom have dyslexia. Materials are needed to support this group of learners.

If teaching is done in a dyslexia friendly way, then it may automatically support students with other disabilities. People with dyslexia are one of the largest disability groups and the spectrum of disabilities and skills within this group can be seen as comparable to the general learning community as a whole, because of the range of learning styles.

A research project, the Disability Accessibility Research Initiative, is being run by Key2Access Ltd on behalf of the ADO, which will be looking specifically at dyslexia. Although plenty of work has been done in accessibility for people with visual impairments and blindness, people with dyslexia are often overlooked. This research project will try to bring people who work in the field together and aims to cover e-learning, web, print, and software and interface accessibility. It may also benefit people with short-term memory problems, such as the elderly.

A research community will be set up to discuss ideas as well as an online register for relevant research, which will allow people to state their involvement in dyslexia research and their areas of interest. Two e-mail lists - an announcement list and an actual discussion list - will be set up and an online research/bibliography tool (possibly open source) developed. The whole process will be made dyslexia friendly and will be available soon.

Online (and offline) communication usually involves interactions between the student, the teacher and the learning materials. However, for disabled students, the reality is sometimes more complicated and interactions may also include support workers, peers, and support notes. Nevertheless, interaction is key.

"In order to facilitate inclusive learning, we need to ensure students can interact successfully with themselves, peers, teachers, support workers, and learning materials." (Pete Rainger, Key2Access Ltd.)

However, there can be factors which can disrupt this interaction. For example, a visually impaired student may not be able to "interact" with a PowerPoint lecture because the student may not be able to see it clearly or the context may not be explained but it can be improved by including peers or notes written by peers or teachers. Therefore, learning may occur without direct interaction with the teacher.

Another example is that of a student with motor impairments who may not be able to "interact" with a drag-and-drop exercise. In this case, alternative learning materials could be provided or a support worker or the student's peers could help complete the exercise. A drag-and-drop exercise tests a student's kinaesthetic (movement), visual and thinking (matching or sequencing items) abilities, so depending on what is important for the learning outcome, it might be better to choose a different way of presenting the exercise.

There are different considerations that need to be made at each level of a course's delivery:

  • Course Level - disability considerations, QA (Quality Assurance) and standards, professional requirements.
  • Activity Level - accessibility implications, educational considerations, resource/skill considerations.
  • Delivery Level - student characteristics, accessibility needs, assistive technology, learning support needs, what student support mechanisms and technology are required?

It is important to understand the different interactions and to consider the different learning styles, implicit learning skills and accessibility implications of each learning object.

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Building on the Standards.
by Lawrie Phipps, TechDis.

Lawrie Phipps gave a presentation on approaches to e-learning and disability and the use of standards in e-learning.

TechDis is funded by JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) and is hosted by the HE (Higher Education) Academy. It covers HE, FE (Further Education) and specialist education.

Lawrie gave an example of what standards can look like from the perspective of someone trying to work with them: an academic active in the realms of teaching of research wins a small sum of money to develop e-learning materials for his students but the supporting documentation mentions metadata, accessibility, interoperability, standards, legislation etc. However, if all of these features were included in the e-learning materials, a much larger sum of money would be required.

TechDis are now starting to define the approach they think should be taken. In 2001, TechDis felt that developers should meet the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) to AA level as a minimum, but WCAG is designed for websites not for actual e-learning. The ethos now is that all learners, regardless of their disability, social or cultural background, or previous experience should be provided with educational experiences that meet their learning needs.

The most important thing for the learner is the achievement of what s/he actually wants from the educational institution. Students have a variety of disability, cultural, economic, social, and geographic requirements, which will affect the way in which they interact with learning activities and resources - and accessibility, usability, local factors, infrastructure, and learning outcomes (along with QA) all impact on the way in which the student is taught. Local factors can change within an educational institution and have an impact on teaching - for example, one year it could be a subject review or Ofstead visit, and the next it could be the RAE (Research Assessment Exercise).

Several stages have been identified for ensuring that learning resources are inclusive:

  1. Understand the resources being developed in relation to inclusion.
  2. Identify existing established practices - e.g. use of the W3C ATAG (Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines) for blind students accessing the internet; an amanuensis for a wheelchair user accessing a lab experiment where there are health and safety considerations; an e-learning system which allows students to change the background or font colour, text size etc.
  3. Assess the applicability of that practice - does it make sense in that teaching context? For example:
    • The use of an ALT tag might invalidate an assessment and the learning outcome if it gives away the answer to the student. Common sense is required.
    • A student in a wheelchair may not like having to do a lab experiment with someone else and may prefer working at their own pace without someone suggesting what they do next; also it can be difficult to communicate exactly what the student wants an amanuensis to do.
    • Materials can be difficult to access, such as a long document which has just be put straight in to a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment), without any consideration for the way it is to be used.
  4. Identify alternatives, intervention or adjustment - for example:
    • Where a blind student has to take part in an internet based assessment, the questions could be made accessible, or as a sound file, or the student could be assessed individually or in a small group in order to test their understanding.
    • A wheelchair user could use software to replicate experiments.
  5. Development of materials.

TechDis feels that it is probably better to ignore standards when working with practitioners and leave that to the content developers. It is important to look at examples of good innovative or adequate practice, which should be made available along with an evidence base to support the next phase (which might include standards). TechDis will still continue to give advice but it will be focussing more on supporting students. A database of innovative practice is being put together and should be available sometime within six months.

A discussion then followed. Some of the comments included:

  • Interoperability standards allow content to be kept so that good practice can be preserved. It should not be the responsibility of the educator to worry about standards.
  • It is not possible to make everything accessible to everyone.
  • Standards can be frustrating but a starting point is still required. External material also needs to be accessible.
  • Standards have taken away ownership of accessibility from the developer and have reduced it to "tick-box accessibility". Design for all can be a damaging statement as one size does not fit all.
  • Accessibility seems to have been reduced to the W3C standards. It is possible to have an AAA site that is completely unusable, especially as some of the terms are very subjective.
  • The W3C guidelines are only guidelines in America but BSI (British Standards Institute) standards based on them are being proposed in Britain.
  • It is important not to lose sight of the learning objective. A teacher knows what s/he wants to achieve but it can be difficult to encapsulate that in e-learning.
  • Disengaged learners often like multimedia but accessibility can water it down to the lowest common denominator.
  • It is always important to test any e-learning resources with users and to see how they actually use it.

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Pedagogy Before Technology (HTML Format).
Pedagogy Before Technology (PowerPoint Format - 1.06Mb).
by Professor Tony Toole, Coleg Sir Gar.

Tony Toole gave a presentation about designing online learning for diversity, accessibility and usability.

Coleg Sir Gar is only involved in distance and lifelong learning. The lifelong learner often cannot access learning because they work, or live in a rural area (disabled environmentally), or are disabled. Therefore, designing for diversity, accessibility, and usability are important. Courses are delivered at a distance using a roll-on roll-off model to a diverse range of students, most of who are in their late 30s. There are as many students over 60 as there are under 20, so the "one size fits all" model will not work.

The reasons why people like doing things are very complex, so the process of learning has to be designed for specific learners, otherwise they may become demotivated and leave. Therefore, the different attitudes of learners must be taken into account.

Initially, Coleg Sir Gar put structured materials with a linear navigation online. There were structured tasks for each topic (around ten tasks per module), a discussion forum and an assessment. However, this structure did not work in the expected way. Many lifelong learners have different reasons for choosing to study and it was discovered they tended to look at an assessment first to see if they could do it. The majority did not follow the tasks through linearly as the designer had intended. Although the majority of students completed the first task and took part in the first discussion, only half the students completed the second task and only four went through linearly to the very end. Nevertheless, all the students got what they wanted from the learning experience but just not in the way the designer intended!

There were a number of lessons learned from this:

  • Multiple routes through the learning materials need to be provided.
  • Teachers and students like face to face meetings (act as a comfort zone) - but this can be a barrier for students who can not easily travel to the campus.
  • Different people like to communicate in different ways - some like to communicate a lot (too much!) so an e-moderator needs to be skilled in dealing with such students in a discussion forum environment.
  • Everyone has a framework of competence in order to be able to do what they need to do at the time (so everyone learns and unlearns throughout their life).

Coleg Sir Gar use the Socratic theory of learning design and have concentrated on activity based, student-oriented learning rather than "brain dump" learning. It is based on a constructivist, situated learning approach and employs discovery learning activities in communities of practice. When designing a learning experience, the following questions are asked:

  • What are the learning outcomes?
  • What evidence do we want to show that the learner has achieved the outcomes?
  • What activities will lead to the generation of this evidence?
  • What resources are required?

When the students start a module, a welcome message is sent to the student and there is one-to-one communication between the teacher and the student. There is a module descriptor and the student will choose their first learning activity from a list with advice from the tutor. The student is given as many learning materials as required and completes the learning activity. When all the chosen learning activities are complete, the module comes to an end. The student will either complete all or only part of the module depending on what they need. E-portfolios are used to gather evidence of the students' achievements.

E-learning has two main benefits: accessibility and flexibility - but e-learning technology is only a delivery medium which can enable as well as constrain. Therefore, it should only be used because it is the ideal tool for a particular job not because it is there.

When designing for diversity, the following should be taken into account:

  • Design to provide access to learning.
  • Use technology as a gateway.
  • Know your learners and their learning needs (know how they interact and what they can do).
  • Give the learner control and choice (this could be considered a risk for the teacher, but as long as there is management of the way in which the learner can interact, should not be a problem).
  • Embed a communications network. Look at the way in which students interact with communications. For example, some students do not like to be telephoned to see how they are getting on, but some do.
  • Do not think for a moment that a learning object follows a single template or that academics know how to do it.
  • There is still a lot to learn!

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Pedagogy and Accessibility (HTML Format).
Pedagogy and Accessibility (PowerPoint Format - 255Kb).
by Professor Mark Stiles, Staffordshire University.

Mark Stiles gave a presentation about Staffordshire University's experience of embedding pedagogy and accessibility in policy and quality assurance regulations as part of trying to achieve institutional practice and cultural change.

Staffordshire University used to give out a handbook to academic staff that included advice on pedagogic approaches. Although it included everything that was required, it was very big so most people did not look at it. The focus was too heavily content-oriented and people felt that things were being imposed on them. Accessibility, pedagogy and quality assurance just ended up as add-ons.

Generic staff development was problematic when trying to encourage people to take pedagogic approaches, so "integrative development" was examined. In theory, this is a project management approach, but it also acts as a means of providing a degree of management to awards, blended learning, and online courses. If a course involves e-learning, then the "integrative development" team work with the teaching team so that staff development can be delivered at their point of need and might include accessibility, e-tutoring, pedagogy, etc.

The integrative development approach has provided benefits such as:

  • Embedded accessibility - accessibility should be embedded in the process. Accessibility is for everyone not just for people with disabilities.
  • The development of a shared understanding of roles, expertise and boundaries, especially as teaching staff tend to respect their peers.

As a result, some of the lessons learned are as follows:

  • Varied activity should be included in a course in order to make it more exciting. Varied activity can make a module more accessible, because not everyone likes learning in the same way.
  • Straightforward language should be used and it should be appropriate for the audience.
  • Ensure that PowerPoint is used in an accessible manner.
  • One size does not fit all.
  • In some cases, accessibility is skill related, e.g. some high level skills are required to use the JAWS screen reader in certain situations.
  • Good course design is good course design.
  • A lot of content does not actually reside in a VLE and can therefore be inaccurate (and inaccessible) - e.g. web sites, PDFs, etc.
  • E-learning is a tool not the point of the exercise.

As a result of implementing integrative development, Staffordshire University has developed an e-learning policy and defined an e-learning threshold (i.e. what is and is not e-learning) covering pedagogy and accessibility. There is also a much smaller guidance handbook. A QA policy has also been put in place for e-learning and e-supported learning (for example, where notes are just put straight into BlackBoard), so handouts, for example, are now quality assured. QA is done by peer review. This integrative development has required a shift in organisational culture but policy is an important instrument and people quite easily get used to the new rules.

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The discussion was based around issues arising from the day:

  • The attitude to rules.
  • Whether accessibility standards are being misused by organisations to avoid the real essence of accessibility.
  • Whether a test case is required for SENDA (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Act).
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