Advancing accessibility in learning

A group of three individuals of diverse identity, one in a wheelchair, sit working together at an office desk.

IET has led cross-university activities to enhance the accessibility of The Open University study for over a decade and this now operates as a strand of QEI activity.

Enhancing our approaches to supporting disabled students and other groups facing barriers is highlighted in the university strategy and other institutional plans and responses, for example in identifying ways to make OU study more accessible by design rather than relying on resource intensive adjustments. It is also essential to ensure that the OU harnesses innovations that can improve support for disabled students, and that staff understand their responsibilities in relation to legal requirements and the mission of the university to be open to all.

Informing University Strategy on Accessibility

In order for the University to continue to lead in accommodating student’s accessibility requirements in its curriculum and student support processes the QEI team has led survey work to understand current perceptions and requirements to build on already existing provision. The Measuring Accessibility Practices and Perceptions (MAPP) survey was completed by over 600 members of staff in 2021 and gave a detailed picture of levels of awareness across the institution. Further data collection and elicitation of issues has also been undertaken with staff who work in accessibility-related roles. This fed into a paper presented to the OU Access, Participation and Success Steering Group to raise issues and inform strategy. This is particularly relevant as the university strategy and policies expect curriculum that is designed to be fully accessible at the point of delivery.

Innovations in Supporting Students

Given the increasing prominence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) the QEI team led a Test and Learn pilot project that built on the success of the Microsoft-funded ADMINS project.  This project demonstrated that students responded positively to a conversational approach to disability disclosure. The work is particularly timely as the university looks to develop a wider strategy for the use of chatbots and AI-based systems.

Given the increasing prominence of student’s mental health and wellbeing, QEI team members have led the Office for Students-funded Positive Digital Practices project and has developed guidance and pilots of the Our Journey platform which supports students in representing and reflecting on their study journeys emphasising the diversity and the emotional and personal elements of their experiences.

Read more about QEI's work below

Coughlan, T., & Lister, K. (2022). Creating stories of learning, for learning: Exploring the potential of Self-Narrative in education with ‘Our Journey’. Proceedings of C&C ’22: Creativity and Cognition, ACM (pp. 526-531).

Measuring Accessibility Practices and Perceptions at the Open University (MAPP), Findings of the 2021 staff survey. Securing Greater Accessibility (SeGA) Report, October 2021.

Coughlan, T., Lister, K., & Lucassen, M. (2021). Representing the unseen with “Our Journey”: A platform to capture affective experiences and support emotional awareness in University-Level study. Journal of Formative Design in Learning, 5(1), 39-52.

Coughlan, T., Lister, K., Seale, J., Scanlon, E., & Weller, M. (2019). Accessible inclusive learning: Foundations. In R. Ferguson, A. Jones, & E. Scanlon (Eds.), Educational visions: The lessons from 40 years of innovation (pp. 51-73). Ubiquity press,

Lister, K., Coughlan, T., Kenny, I., Tudor, R., & Iniesto, F. (2021). Taylor, The disability disclosure virtual assistant: A case study of participatory research with disabled students. Education Sciences, 11(10), article no. 587.

Lister, K., Coughlan, T., Iniesto, F., Freear, N., & Devine, P. (2020). Accessible conversational user interfaces: Considerations for design. W4A ’20: Proceedings of the 17th International Web for All Conference, article no. 5.

Rets, I., Coughlan, T., Stickler, U., & Astruc, L. (2020). Accessibility of Open Educational Resources: How well are they suited for English learners?. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning.

Seale, J., Colwell, C., Coughlan, T., Heiman, T., Kaspi-Tsahor, D., & Olenik-Shemesh, D. (2021). “Dreaming in colour’: Disabled higher education students’ perspectives on improving design practices that would enable them to benefit from their use of technologies”. Education and Information Technologies, 26(2), 687-1719.