Colleagues working in FE and HE education should now be aware of the new web accessibility legislation, grandly titled the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018, which came into force back in September 2018.
This legislation applies to all publicly-funded higher and further education institutions, requiring our websites and mobile applications to meet specific accessibility standards, as well as the publication of an accessibility statement by 23 September 2019. For existing websites (published before 23 September 2018) the deadline is 23 September 2020.
The aim of the legislation is to ensure that the content we make available online can be used by as many people as possible, including those with an impairment or disability.
At Leeds Beckett University we currently have 3,560 students registered with Disability Advice, and implementing the new legislation builds on the excellent work already taking place within the Library in regards to accessibility and inclusivity.
An overarching accessibility statement has been published on the Library website: https://libguides.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/about_us/accessibility_statement
This lists our platforms with links to relevant accessibility information for each one where available, along with any additional notes. It summarises some key overall accessibility strengths and areas for improvement within our systems, as well as covering other significant elements required in an accessibility statement, including a roadmap for improving accessibility. This statement will be reviewed and updated regularly.
In the background we are undertaking a detailed assessment of the accessibility of our systems and services to identify areas for improvement, starting with the Library website, and working with third party suppliers to obtain accessibility information about systems they provide.
We have been updating our ‘Preferred licensing template’ which provides suppliers with a set of functions and attributes which we consider either essential or desirable when purchasing any new journal or database to ensure that accessibility is included as part of the procurement process.
We also work directly with providers to ensure that Library resources are accessible and we’re currently arranging for students who use screen readers to give feedback to Emerald, one of the Library’s database providers.
Leeds Beckett Library contributed to the 2018 ASPIRE audit of accessibility statements produced by eBook providers, and we were a lead partner on the award winning 2016 national eBook accessibility audit, through which we assessed the accessibility of eBooks from various providers and made recommendations for improvements. You can read more about the ASPIRE project in this article, featuring Susan Smith, Library Learning Support Officer for Disability and Dyslexia, along with a Leeds Beckett student. Susan also recently appeared on BBC Radio 4’s ‘In Touch’ programme discussing the importance of accessible eBooks. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0009zd1
A key element of the Library's work is liaising with students to better understand and meet their needs. In 2018 we reviewed our Alternative Formats service, which provides reading list items in an accessible format for students with a print impairment.
As a result of this, a new system for sharing alternative formats resources with eligible students was introduced at the start of the 2019/20 academic year. Resources are now shared using Talis Aspire reading lists - links to accessible resources are added to an Alternative Formats reading list for each module that a registered student is studying. This enables the students using the service to access all their resources from one place, using the same system as their peers. During semester one there were 61 students registered to use the service, and 154 Alternative Formats Talis reading lists were shared. In the video “The Alternative Formats Service at Leeds Beckett University Library: A Student Perspective”, Jim, a student who is currently using the service, talks about how it has supported him with his academic studies.
Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Authority (HESA) reported in January 2019 show that in 2017/18 there were 26,100 more new students with a disability at English universities than in 2013/14, an increase of 38% per cent. This uptake is encouraging, and it is therefore appropriate that we continuously consider how we support those students and enable them to reach their potential.
About the Author
Rachel Thornton is the Copyright Clearance Officer in Libraries and Learning Innovation (LLI) at Leeds Beckett University. As well as advising on copyright, she manages the Digitisation Service and supports the Alternative Formats Service.