2020

In May we published our Systematic review protocol for research into the accessibility teaching literature in open access journal Social Science Protocols. The paper includes a review of reviews in this area and will be useful for anyone looking to research accessibility teaching, learning or related aspects of accessibility pedagogy (student experience, learning outcomes and so on).

Lewthwaite, S., Coverdale, A., & Butler-Rees, A. (2020) Teaching Accessibility in Computer Science and Related Disciplines: A Systematic Review and Narrative Synthesis Protocol. Social Science Protocols. 

ABSTRACT

Background: Imperatives for digital inclusion mean there is growing demand for graduates with the knowledge and skills to produce digital services that are accessible to disabled people and older populations. Accessibility is mandated by a body of laws that constitute digital disability rights, and internet use among disabled people is increasing (ONS, 2019). However, a lack of progress in the delivery of accessible mobile web-based services, tools and resources mean disabled and older people face persistent digital barriers. There is a pressing need to develop accessibility capacity in the digital workforce. To this end, this systematic literature review seeks to establish what is empirically known about the effective teaching and learning of digital accessibility through the lens of pedagogy.

Methods/DesignThe review will consider research (1999-2019) which focuses on the teaching and learning of digital accessibility in higher education and the workplace. The focus is on how pedagogy is enacted – the pedagogic practice of teaching – rather than curriculum development or other activities that relate to planning or governance. Two databases will be searched, using identified keywords. To identify further papers, backward- and forward- citation analysis is used. Researchers will work iteratively with the data, to ensure no loss of context through data extraction. A narrative synthesis of the findings will be presented.

Discussion: The review will collate literature on the pedagogy of accessibility education, reporting on how the teaching or learning of digital accessibility is effectively undertaken. It will identify the empirical basis for accessibility pedagogy.

On 7th February Sarah and Angharad participated in a discussion with Neil Milliken (ATOS), Debra Ruh (Ruh Global) and Antonio Santos (ATOS) about the teaching of accessibility, as part of the AXSChat series. The discussion gave us the opportunity to introduce ourselves, provide an overview of our research and its aims, and pose questions around the main issues in the field.

The discussion was followed by a live Twitter Chat on 11th February. As part of the chat we posed 6 questions:

  1. How did you first start to learn about #accessibility? What helped you on your learning journey?
  2. How do you continue to learn about #accessibility? Has this changed over time?
  3. How can someone starting out get from #accessibility basics to a specialist/expert level? What does it take in terms of support, mentors, time and resources etc?
  4. How can the lived experiences of disabled people be best drawn upon for #accessibility training and teaching?
  5. How can current #accessibility teaching and training be developed? What feedback, networks, events and conversations are needed to do this?
  6. What does excellent #accessibility teaching and training look/feel like? Are some formats (hackathons, sprints, MOOCs etc) better than others? Why?

The Chat helped draw attention to the current state of accessibility teaching, with around 200 users engaging in the chat, including accessibility leaders, practitioners and advocates at various levels, across the UK, Europe and the US. Discussion explored the nature of accessibility learning journeys and what might constitute ‘good’ teaching and learning in this sphere. Themes from the Chat included the importance of mentoring, apprenticeship (that is, working closely with experts) and the role of informal learning events/communities, in supporting individuals in their learning journeys. We summarise these below:

Routes into Accessibility

Participants expressed accessibility journeys that were often spurred on by a personal experience of disability (either through being disabled themselves or supporting someone else with a disability) or working in disability-related fields (such as Special Educational Needs), corresponds with many faculty experiences, reported by Shinohara et al (2018) Survey of US Computing Faculty. Learning journeys began based on intrinsic motivation. Notably, no-one identified a route into accessibility instigated by an extrinsic legal or business imperative. Whilst it would be unwise to generalise from this discussion, the focus on intrinsic motivation says something about the routes to engagement for those contributing to informal accessibility networks such as AXSChat – people who are passionate about accessibility and engaging in additional learning opportunities outside of the workplace. For educators, this highlights the importance of harnessing personal experiences to engage learners, and (potentially) the difficulty of educating accessibility ‘conscripts’, those without intrinsic motivation or authentic experience of inclusion. Further, those involved in the Chat frequently noted the importance of engaging with disabled users in order to increase their understanding of accessibility, identify areas of priority and address missing voices. Maintaining contact with disabled users was reported as pivotal in driving individuals’ activities/ambitions along with ensuring a continued passion for accessibility. 

Informal Learning Events

With the majority of accessibility practitioners within the Chat being self-taught – informal learning opportunities and events such as A11y LondonCSUN and ID24 conference, were deemed as useful components in individuals’ learning pathways. These settings were said to offer new routes to learning across organisational, disciplinary and national boundaries. Such events were also reported to encourage the sharing of practice, something which was deemed as much needed within this sphere, where accessibility training can often be too expensive and teaching resources frequently only shared internally within organisations.

Online Accessibility Platforms and Communities

Contributors recognised that learning was a continuous process and one that required continuing professional development throughout their career to ensure knowledge is up-to-date. Open online communities operating through platforms such as Twitter (i.e. #Accessibility#ATChat@AXSChat#A11y and #SpEdTechChat) and resources available through GitHub, Slack and YouTube were therefore deemed as valuable, in connecting with others in the field and aiding in the sharing of knowledge and resources. Many also saw value in following big names within the field and keeping up to date with their activities through Twitter. 

Mentorship

Participants also noted the role of mentorship and the importance of working in excellent teams in advancing their learning, advising them on appropriate training/events and providing them with both a soundboard and role model. Some of this incorporated the values of apprenticeship – that is, the gains of working closely with experts – observing their work processes, modelled behaviours and decision-making processes. Mentors were highly valued and unsurprisingly in great demand! Notably we are seeing some big names in the industry (e.g. Matt May at Adobe) offering open Office Hours for mentoring and Q&A sessions as a way of contributing to the community.

Formal Learning

Whilst a surprisingly large part of the discussion focussed on informal learning, there was also recognition of formal routes to learning (those which were certified and professionalised) such as the IAAP certification. There appeared to be a great desire for further certifications of this kind and for the establishing of an accessibility Apprenticeship  in the UK. Apprenticeship is meant here in terms of a vocational course with a formal qualification, through which someone learns a job, art or trade under guidances. Several contributors noted that such accessibility training should not solely focus on developing technical skill but the soft, interpersonal-skills that are crucial for those working in the field. 

There was also a call amongst participants to ensure inclusive training to be developed, catering towards disabled people as learners. As one practitioner @SarahGBoland noted, ‘accessibility training and teaching should be universally accessible and have the capacity to support anyone who wants to learn at any level’.

Along with formal and professional training, attendance at professional conferences such as CSUNSIGSCEand ITiSCE were reported as useful experiences, spurring and deepening learning, and helping to broaden their networks and informing them of recent developments in the field. The cost of attending these conferences was however commented upon as being prohibitively expensive, making them out of reach to some. 

Every journey is different and includes a patchwork of formal/informal learning driven by learners

The Chat suggests that for the community that engages in AXSchat each accessibility journey is different, incorporating a combination of informal and formal learning (e.g. IAAP certification) driven by the learners. Whilst the chat only provided us with a small window into individuals’ reflections, and cannot be construed as research data, it appeared that there were a few common threads, again, these include – the importance of mentorship/role models, the role of informal learning through networks and communities and an expressed need for more formal and certified learning pathways and training. 

In terms of teaching quality, Chat participants associated the following factors as important in constituting ‘good’ accessibility teaching/training: 

  • Experiential learning (providing students with first-hand experience of solving an accessibility problem)
  • Inclusive and adaptable teaching (catering to students varying experiences and abilities)
  • Accessibility teaching should be grounded within the experiences of disabled people with disabled people included in the development and delivery of training and
  • incorporate both technical and soft skills. 

Overall, our experience of engaging in AXSChat was a positive one, igniting conversations around accessibility pedagogy, providing us with some insight into the diversity of accessibility learning journeys and connecting us with others in the field. We thank AXSChat for inviting us and for the opportunity to be involved in this welcoming and vibrant community.  

On Friday, Sarah and Angharad were in conversation with Neil Milliken, Debra Ruh and Antonio Santos on the Teaching Accessibility project ahead of a forthcoming Twitter Chat – #AXSchat – focussed on the teaching of accessibility. The conversation is available via iTunes AXSchat podcast, in your browser via BuzzSprout, or on YouTube as a Subtitled video

We hope that those of you on Twitter will be able to join the conversation tomorrow, Tuesday 11th Feb, 20:00-21:00 GMT / 15:00-16:00 EST. To do so, follow the questions via @AXSchat and tweet using the hashtag #AXSchat.

We’ve set six questions that we hope will instigate a conversation that raises useful reflections, resources, and dialogue for everyone involved in accessibility: 

Q1: How did you first start to learn about #accessibility? What helped you on your learning journey?

Q2: How do you continue to learn about #accessibility? Has this changed over time?

Q3: How can someone starting out get from #accessibility basics to a specialist/expert level? What does it take in terms of support, mentors, time and resources etc?

Q4: How can the lived experiences of disabled people be best drawn upon for #accessibility training and teaching?

Q5: How can current #accessibility teaching and training be developed? What feedback, networks, events and conversations are needed to do this?

Q6: What does excellent #accessibility teaching and training look/feel like? Are some formats (hackathons, sprints, MOOCs etc) better than others? Why?

We’re glad to announce that our accessibility policy analysis has been published by the journal of Disability and Society. Academics can access the paper via Disability & Society: ‘Accessible at last?: what do new European digital accessibility laws mean for disabled people in the UK?’. An Open Access authors’ pre-print version is also available via our publications page. We are planning further analysis leading to a longer work, concerning issues of compliance culture and education policy. If there are areas that you think can or should be expanded/deepened, or further work we should be aware of, please do let us know. We appreciate your comments. 

The full abstract and reference follow below: 

Abstract

Recent changes to the regulation of digital services could represent a step-change in the accessibility of public sector websites and applications in the UK and across Europe. Accessibility will be centrally monitored meaning the onus is no longer exclusively on disabled people to issue legal challenges to digital exclusion. How will these changes affect disabled people in the UK, in light of Brexit and the complex relationship between standards and disability?

Lewthwaite, S. & James, A. (2020) Accessible at last? What do new European digital accessibility laws mean for disabled people in the UK?. Disability & Society.

Would you like to do a PhD investigating the teaching and learning of accessibility?

We are currently seeking funding for two outstanding PhD candidates (UK-based or international) to come to work with us here at the University of Southampton, researching the teaching and learning of accessibility. As a doctoral researcher, you will join the Centre for Research in Inclusion at Southampton Education School at the University of Southampton – one of the UK’s best Education departments. Here, you will work on new research into the teaching and learning of digital accessibility. Potential topics for pedagogic research include learner perspectives on accessibility; or ageing in accessibility education.

Proposals can either be candidate-led (initiated by you) or developed with us. We are currently seeking funding from the South Coast Doctoral Training Partnership and Southampton’s Presidential Scholarships through a competitive process, with a view to PhDs beginning in Autumn 2020/Spring 2021. 

For more information, please get in touch with Principal Investigator and project lead Dr Sarah Lewthwaite.