Digital technology is crucial in higher education and has revolutionised the way students apply, study, and interact with a university. As an example, recent developments have seen paper admissions dropped in favour of streamlined and adaptable online application portals. In instances like this, technology makes the university experience simpler, more intuitive and more effective for students. However, not all students interact with technology in the same way, and don’t all have the same requirements. The Equality in higher education: statistical report 2014 suggests that 9.5% of UK first-year students disclose a disability, which equates to over 200,000 students in total.
To make sure all students can participate equally and have the tools to meet their needs, universities must ensure accessibility is at the core of all of their services. An application portal often provides the first impression a prospect receives of the technology a university uses. It’s a core part of how prospects interact with a university, and ensuring it caters to all students’ requirements is crucial for every institution. Universal design is an important concept here. This means considering people’s diverse needs in the design of a product. The main goals of universal design are to eliminate barriers and improve access for all. Products that follow the principle of universal design are:
Below are three key features universities should accommodate in their application portal to ensure it’s accessible for all.
Certain users navigate the internet using the keyboard rather than the mouse. The big difference is that when users navigate through the keyboard, access to the links on the screen is sequential: users must tab through all the links one-by-one before reaching a link of interest. Keyboard users must be able to access all interactive elements, not just the main navigation or in-line links. This means that form elements, drop-down menus, buttons, dialogue boxes and other widgets all have to be accessible by tabbing through the interface.
Rather than displaying web content visually for users in a window on the monitor, audio interfaces convert text into synthesised speech which users can listen to. Ideally, users should be able to set the speed rate of speech to suit their personal preference. Audio interfaces present content linearly to users, one item at a time. This contrasts to the way in which most people use visual interfaces. Sighted users can scan an entire screen almost instantly, comprehending the overall layout and other aspects of the content. While students with visual impairments cannot comprehend these macro-level aspects as quickly, audio interfaces allow them to progress through such systems in a step-by-step manner.
Braille displays are electro-mechanical devices which present braille characters for visually impaired computer users, usually by means of round-tipped pins raised through holes in a flat surface. Some universities also have braille embossers, which emboss special characters onto paper. Braille translators are also useful for translating electronic text.
Are you a student or university staff member with experience of accessible technology? Post your comments below or tweet us @fullfabric.
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