Accessibility in Further Education

Thomas Pocklington Trust Logo

All Able have been commissioned by the Thomas Pocklington Trust on research that investigates how blind and partially sighted students access information and assistive technology in mainstream further education (FE). The hope is that this research can support policy decision making in future government white papers.

Research to understand how blind and partially sighted students access information and assistive technology

Many young people when leaving school choose to study at college. This is an exciting time for any student as they take that next step towards employment and independence.

However, for many blind and partially sighted students, we know that their journey can encounter many barriers that aren’t experienced by their sighted peers. To help get a better understanding, we commissioned All Able Ltd to investigate accessible information practices, compliance with accessibility regulations and how blind and partially sighted students access information and assistive technology in mainstream further education (FE).

Find out more

Read the Executive summary

Download the full report

Thomas Pocklington Trust: Making college accessible guide

When asked about if the environment was more accessible:

… it would be good for me because I'd have way more confidence in what I'd like to learn and be able to get a lot more things done... I honestly think it would help a ton, mean me being able to actually move up in what I wanted to do. It would give me a lot more confidence in the work. And would make me feel a lot better about learning.

- (Student with a visual impairment)

What we found

All further education (FE) colleges are legally obliged to develop accessible websites, learning, teaching and assessment materials but new research reveals a lack of awareness, engagement and compliance across the sector.

The research found eight out of ten colleges in the UK do not provide the legally required accessibility information on their websites.

Changes to college's statement compliance between October 2019 and April 2021. All figures available in below dropdown.

FE statements growth October 19 to April 21

October 2019

  • Compliant: 4

  • Good: 10

  • Partial: 21

  • Poor: 131

  • No statement: 222


May 2020

  • Compliant: 11

  • Good: 5

  • Partial: 55

  • Poor: 136

  • No statement: 177


November 2020

  • Compliant: 27

  • Good: 27

  • Partial: 26

  • Poor: 190

  • No statement: 134


April 2021

  • Compliant: 39

  • Good: 32

  • Partial: 34

  • Poor: 195

  • No statement: 127

The research tested the pathways blind and partially sighted students may use to find out about support a college may provide. The responses indicated a worrying mixture in the quality and usefulness of information provided to prospective blind and partially sighted students and almost half (45%) of colleges contacted did not even respond.

Responses from colleges when contacted by a blind prospective student. 54.6% responded in good time to disability support request.21.4% did not response to disability support request but did respond to generic request within 2 days.24.0% did not respond to any requests from any student.

“Every blind and partially sighted student should have access to a quality college education but our research shows there is a lack of inclusive practice creating a barrier to accessibility. This was seen in inaccessible software, systems and processes, and a prevailing culture in colleges where student support departments are viewed as the only teams that have a responsibility to consider the needs of people with disabilities.”

-Tara Chattaway, Head of Education at Thomas Pocklington Trust

Recommendations

The report recommends urgent actions that Government, college leadership and college staff must take to improve support for blind and partially sighted students. These include:

  1. Improve legal compliance with accessibility regulations across the FE sector for digital systems and learning resources.

  2. College leadership should deliver an accessible-by-design approach in FE colleges.

  3. FE colleges must support Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND)/Assisted Learning Support (ALS) teams to encourage organisational adoption of inclusive mainstream accessibility practices.

  4. FE colleges must ensure access to accessible technology and effective training for partially sighted students in FE.

  5. FE colleges should embed accessibility training for all students in FE colleges as a core employability skill.


Practical recommendations for colleges to embed an accessible-by-design approach include:

  1. Implement a digital accessibility policy, making it clear that delivering an accessible-by-design approach is the responsibility of all staff, not just SEND/ALS teams.

  2. Map the college digital estate, identify accessibility issues for each website / platform / learning resource system and prioritise remediation.

  3. Ensure policy and processes are in place and followed by digital content teams. Creators of web pages and learning resources must deliver content which meets basic accessibility standards.

  4. Invest in training to support staff in learning basic accessibility principles and adjustments to improve and create accessible content.

  5. All colleges must not procure new digital systems that do not meet accessibility standards.

  6. Engage with students to foster a more inclusive community.