What does 23 Sep 2019 mean to you?
If you have any digital accessibility needs, 23 September will probably be a date you’re looking forward to. It should mean that you can access public websites more easily, whether you use a screen reader, have a particular preference for text size or colour contrast, or you simply prefer to do everything on your mobile. It’s unlikely that everything will be 100% accessible by that date – older sites have until 23 Sep 2020, apps have until 23 June 2021 and there are exemptions for recordings before Sep 2020 and so on. The deadlines can be found on the gov.uk guidance for public sector websites. However, it will become more common for sites to have an accessibility statement explaining what is accessible and how to request accessible versions.
I liken this to restaurants declaring their ability to cater for food intolerances and labelling meals with more information to help everyone who has dietary needs. As a consumer, you know how liberating this can be for you to have that information and choice. It will be like that for those consuming our websites and our resources. It will mean more freedom and less barriers.
Let’s bear that in mind as we work hard to get ourselves ready for that deadline. It feels like an unsurmountable challenge, ensuring everyone knows about the new laws, that they start adopting new digital practices, that they are willing to re-create ten-year-old resources and give it new life, but if we keep our eye on the prize, the moment will come when we look back and wonder that we ever made such inaccessible sites and content and expected people to cope. After all, how many of us still wish we could access Adobe Flash content on our mobiles?
What we’re doing.
At the University of York, we’ve set up an e-accessibility working group and we started by focusing on
- the University web site and content created in the content management system.
- the virtual learning environment (VLE) and all the content that is likely to be used from Sep 2019.
We used Jisc’s accessibility snapshot service to help us prioritise what we could improve on our website. An action plan is now in place to progress this.
For our VLE, we are approaching the work in two phases. Phase One is the review of all sites to gauge the level of accessible practice in departments. We trained some interns to review our sites relative to a VLE sites check list. This work is still on-going and will result in reports that we will share with department heads so they can make a plan of action. Phase Two is where we can help departments to address the mountain of resources that need to be given new life. By Sep 2019.
Obviously it’s going to take some serious prioritisation to make this happen. And it’s also going to take more than a team of interns working all through summer. It will require a whole organisation approach. We’ve been raising awareness at various levels, championing the cause at every group or department meeting possible. We’ve also started running briefing and workshop sessions regularly. These are very well attended and people are coming on board with surprising speed and interest. Hardly a day goes by now when we don’t get a phone call or email asking about something we’ve not yet thought about: Have we engaged the Design and Print department? Have we talked to so and so because they have asked a third-party to create an app. What do we do about our new site being launched in September by our supplier?
The work is branching out in more ways than we envisaged. We’re very lucky we can share this workload with the IT services’ teaching and learning team, and several volunteers from various departments who attended the first workshop and decided they wanted to help spread the message. We’re also:
- creating training tutorials to roll out so we can reach people (staff and students) in a more flexible way.
- pointing them to our guidelines for accessible practice that have been available since 2016.
- setting up a wiki with all the information and resources that people can use to help themselves.
- planning an internal communications campaign.
- working with the HR and academic practice teams to look at recruitment and formal training.
- getting involved with Jisc’s accessibility working groups to give back what we learn as we much as possible.
- using our local support networks (thanks @ysjtel, @ft30uk and the people on the digital accessibility regulations forum)
Our approach is to change our culture and practices to embed a ‘born accessible’ ethos so that all staff and students are engaged in making our digital world a more user-friendly place to work and learn. Maybe we can think about 23 September 2019 as a kind of birthday for this new world!