Digital Accessibility

What is digital accessibility?

Digital accessibility is about taking positive steps to make our websites, documents and apps as useable by as many people as possible. The 2018 regulations mean that we have been working towards a deadline of 23 September 2019 for new websites and documents. Other deadlines are detailed in our briefing presentation. We have also written a blog post about our approach and preparations.

e-accessibility wiki site

What we’ve been doing


Building on an existing e-accessibility forum, a new e-accessibility working group was set up in Nov 2018 to lead the response to the 2018 regulations, reporting to the Inclusivity Strategy Group. This cross-services group includes representation from student reps to ensure actions and communications include the users we are targetting. A briefing paper was presented to the University Executive Board to gain buy-in from senior staff. We took advantage of JISC’s accessibility snapshot service for our University website to aid prioritisation. Accessibility briefing and workshops were advertised widely and continue to be well-attended. Our digital accessibility tutorial has been made available to staff from our HR LMS to help raise awareness further. If you don’t have a login, you can view the tutorial linked below and provide feedback to

View the digital accessibility tutorial at

Support for academic departments

We have been actively supporting departments in a number of ways in terms of their preparations:

Spring Term 2019: We worked with a team of student interns to review VLE content and to identify any formatting / access issues that needed attention. Reports were sent on to all teaching departments, highlighting priority areas for attention.

Summer Term 2019: We ran another internship programme over the summer months, with a second group of interns being assigned to departments to support staff in the review of digital resources and VLE site design, so that materials are presented in an accessible way from September 2019 onwards. The focus was on developing reusable templates, which will ensure that any new materials are accessible by design, as well as on education and awareness of the WCAG 2.1 principles.

Autumn Term 2019: Our third phase focused on supporting departments with their own action plans. Apart from the central VLE accessibility statement, most departments now have an accessibility statement on their vle site, letting students know how accessible the resources are and who to contact if they encounter any issues. Some departments are co-funding interns to help continue the work of making resources and sites accessible, and others are piloting Blackboard Ally, an accessibility checker built-into the vle that also allows students to download alternative formats.

Richard Walker gave an update to the sector at a webinar run by AbilityNet.

Spring 2020: Lilian ran a workshop at the Durham Blackboard User Group conference in January 2020 and some of the data was used at Alistair McNaught’s well-attended session at the Assistive Technology Network meeting in London. 11 departments are now running Blackboard Ally so students can download alternative formats, with more coming on stream after Easter.

Read the findings from PDLT, Library and the Student App project on our user research workshop with students . Amy Eyre has also written a separate blog post based on her experience and findings from the workshop, specifically about the accessibility of Blackboard Mobile and Blackboard Collaborate. We have now published a ‘how to’ guide on conducting user research. This may need to be updated with social distancing measures in mind.

Summer 2020: Covid 19 and the lockdown has made digital accessibility more important than ever before. While staff are busy trying to get up to speed on various online delivery methods and tools, we are using this opportunity to weave accessibility into all approaches. The online Creating Accessible Documents workshop continues to be well-attended and is now supplemented by the Accessible Presentations workshop.

Blackboard Ally is now available by default on our VLE (except for three departments).

Our agenda is becoming more integrated with the special interest groups, working groups and various committees across the campus. If your team has not had an accessiblity briefing, please do get in touch.


We have been busy delivering a number of workshops on how to create accessible documents. Our slides from these workshops have been shared with the Higher Education community. Over 1800 staff have now attended briefings or workshops and at our last poll, 88% of staff were now using headings, lists and descriptive hyperlinks, and 70% adding alternative text to images and not using tables for layouts.  Still some way to go but it’s a very strong shift in the right direction. We will continue to run these scheduled sessions for the foreseeable future, and will also arrange bespoke sessions for departments in response to any requests that we receive.
For further details on our training sessions and accessibility guidance resources, please consult the e-accessibility wiki site, which provides regular updates on what we are doing and has the key guidance information that you will need to get up to speed with the new regulations.

Inclusive teaching and learning practices

Some examples of inclusive teaching and learning practice at the University:

Empowering learners

We’ve pulled together some key resources to improve learners’ digital skills for a more accessible experience. We have plans to run a campaign in 2020 to promote these resources and to develop student skills.

Leading accessible practice

We have a page to support those leading accessible practice in their departments. Our page on Shifting Digital Accessibility Practice provides a framework for thinking about our actions and planning what else we need to do. Consider running a user research workshop to connect with the reality of the student experience. Also consider carefully how you can evaluate the impact of your action plan to ensure you are investing your time in the things that really matter, and to ensure you haven’t missed anything.

Please feel free to contact for any further information you require on digital accessibility.

Last updated: 15 July 2020

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