Why accessibility is important for every student

On Thursday 21 May, the Department of Education marked Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD).

GAAD aims to raise awareness of digital accessibility: “the ability of a website, mobile application or electronic document to be easily navigated and understood by a wide range of users, including those users who have visual, auditory, motor or cognitive disabilities.”

The Disability Strategy Implementation team asked Greg Alchin, Lead, Disability Employment, how department employees and members of the community can contribute to GAAD’s mission.

Why is Global Accessibility Awareness Day so important?

Global Accessibility Awareness Day is about equal access, and that’s really important for everybody in our department. Whether you’re a student, staff member or community member, we want everyone to have the same access.

Within the community, a misconception exists that just because information is digital it is useable by everyone. Our digital resources could be in any format, but there are things we can do to make sure everyone can engage with the content that we create.

Why are accessibility adjustments so crucial?

They align with teaching standards for us and it is good teaching practice. They align with the department’s strategic plan and are the law. Disability Standards for Education are a subset of the Disability Discrimination Act.

At any one time you don’t know who is in your classroom. You may have a student with a permanent impairment or a temporary impairment. Statistics from America show that there are 26,000 people with a permanent loss of one arm, 13 million who have a temporary loss of one arm due to an injury, and 8 million people who are trying to nurse a child. If you solve accessibility issues for the 26,000, you benefit 21 million.

When you think about all the students who might have an injury or illness, when you make content or an environment more accessible you make it more useable. Accessibility adjustments also improve the discoverability of digital content online.

How can school and department staff make content accessible?

  • Write clearly and concisely – 39 per cent of our population has less than functional literacy. Take whatever you’ve written and strip it down so it’s in plain English.
  • In Word or on the web, you’ll have options to use headings or paragraph styles. If a person is blind or has low vision, their screen reader is relying on you using those. If you just alter the text visually, screen readers think it’s just normal text. Using these styles provides people access.
  • Make sure your videos have captions – this makes it easier for people with a permanent hearing impairment, but benefits everybody. It supports emergent readers and allows you to search the content within the video.

You can find out how to improve accessibility at your school or workplace in the department’s internal GAAD video series available on Microsoft Stream.

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