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 worked towards a deadline of 23 September 2019 to make new websites and documents accessible. Pre-recorded videos are now being captioned. Other deadlines are detailed in our briefing presentation. We have also written a blog post about our approach and preparations.

e-accessibility wiki site

Shifting digital accessibility practice

We’ve used Kotter’s (1996) 8-step change process to help us reflect on our progress and created a form that allows other organisations to use the same process for reflection. This reflective exercise provides the opportunity to collate and compare where ownership of digital accessibility lies in each institution and the various approaches to awareness raising, student partnerships, skills development and support for departments to embed digital accessibility practice. This reflection can be used by a department too. Shifting digital accessibility practice blog post.

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

Some things you ought to know about digital accessibility, from the Uni of York tutorial.
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 co-funded interns to help continue the work of making resources and sites accessible, and others piloted Blackboard Ally, an accessibility checker built-into the VLE that also allows students to download alternative formats.

We turned on Mathjax on our Blackboard VLE so we could create more accessible maths.

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 were now running Blackboard Ally so students could download alternative formats, with more departments coming on stream after Easter.

We ran a user research workshop with students. Amy Eyre has 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.

We completed some research with students on their experience of digital accessibility. This is done through focus groups and thematic analysis. View the summary poster of our key findings and our full report on the student experience of digital accessibility. Recommendations are being acted on by various teams at the university.

Students working with staff to discover how they use our systems and resources.
What do we know about how students use our systems and resources for learning?

Summer 2020: Covid 19 and the lockdown made digital accessibility more important than ever before. While staff were busy trying to get up to speed on various online delivery methods and tools, we were using the opportunity to weave accessibility into all approaches. We started on Phase 4 of our digital accessibility programme, looking to grow deep roots and spread influence wider across the university. The online Creating Accessible Documents workshop continued to be well-attended and was now supplemented by the Accessible Presentations workshop.

89% score on Blackboard Ally
Our Blackboard Ally score of 89%

Blackboard Ally was now available by default on our VLE (except for three departments). With an overall accessibility score of 89%, we still had some way to go but we celebrated our great improvements since Summer 2019 when we first turned on Ally and the score was 59.8%! That’s a 29.2% improvement based on machine-assessment alone. For other ways we’re measuring improvements, see Workshops below.

We introduced our Captioning Policy in readiness for the deadline of 23 Sep 2020. The policy included guidance to staff on checking the automated captions in Panopto for accuracy.

Our agenda was becoming more integrated with the special interest groups, working groups and various committees across the campus.

Autumn 2020: We launched our new induction and support materials for online learning to students, with more guidance on interacting online and studying online. We launched Texthelp tools for staff and students to help with reading, writing and listening to text and maths. We received feedback from the Heads of E-learning forum that our accessible maths primer has been widely consulted by Universities in the UK.

We worked on our inclusive-learning@york toolkit with students as co-creators. This site provides reflective questions for tutors and departments to ensure we are meeting the needs of our learners. We turned on live captioning functionality in Zoom and started to research the digital accessibility experience of staff to further inform our activities as part of our Disability Inclusion Framework.

Finance started to look into more accessible forms and Design and Print worked on checklists for customers to ensure materials were accessible.


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 2300 staff have now attended briefings or workshops and at our last poll, 88% of staff were now using headings and lists, 94% using descriptive hyperlinks, and 78% 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

See our inclusive teaching and learning and empowering learners mini-sites for more information about these areas. Explore the UDL principles for inclusive learning and view our page on how the UDL continuum of support has influenced our thinking.

Leading accessible practice

We have a page to support those leading accessible practice in their departments. Marketing have led the way on accessible websites for the University as detailed in their blog posts about improving the accessibility of our website and usability testing. We’re starting to see impact in various university teams who are taking responsibility for creating accessible workflows, for example, Finance, Enterprise Systems Group, Communications and Design and Print. We will link to separate blog posts on this soon.

Beyond the university,

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

Last updated: 2 June 2021

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