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Adam Turner

Is the Higher Education Sector doing enough for students with disabilities?

Index Accessibility Public sector


At Sitemorse we published our 2019 Q3 UK & IE Universities and Higher Education INDEX earlier this week. The INDEX has been published quarterly since 2011 and ranks the websites of 346 Higher Education Establishments and Universities for digital compliance, based on User Experience, Search Engine Optimisation and Governance, Rick and Compliance.

There has been a lot of press coverage of late on some of the top universities ensuring they do not discriminate against less advantaged pupils. Universities and further education establishment have needed to ensure they comply with the equalities act since it was passed in 2010 – and partly this ensures that pupils, staff and visitors are not discriminated against if they have a disability. 

On 23 September 2018 The EU Directive on the accessibility of public sector websites and mobile apps (Directive (EU) 2016/2102 using European standard EN 301 549 V1.1.2 (2015-04)), came into force for in the UK. The aim of the regulations is to ensure public sector websites and mobile apps can be used by as many people as possible.

This includes those with:

  • impaired vision
  • motor difficulties
  • cognitive impairments or learning disabilities
  • deafness or impaired hearing

Accessibility means more than putting things online. It means making your content and design clear and simple enough so that most people can use it without needing to adapt it, while supporting those who do.

There are three key dates for compliance to be achieved:

  • 22 September 2019 - New public sector websites (those published after 22 September 2018)
  • 22 September 2020 - All other public sector websites
  • 22 June 2021 - Public sector mobile apps

It is rather disappointing then to see that the websites of only 2 establishments; University of Derby and Heriot-Watt University have achieved a score of 7 or more for Accessibility. Worse still is that nearly 75% have a score of 3 or less and 38% actually scored zero.

Perhaps the focus is on September 2020 and within the next 12 months we will see huge improvement. However, it is important to note that in the meantime, the aforementioned Equalities Act can be applied to websites.

We’ve already seen that in the US that lawsuits alleging web sites discriminating against people with disabilities are increasingly common – how long will it be before we see the same happening in the UK & IE? Being successfully sued can be highly damaging. There is already a lot of competition for places.

Perhaps those in charge should consider whether being seen as discriminating against people with disabilities would affect applications for courses? If you’ve studied hard to achieve a qualification, would you want people to say “oh yes you went to that place where they discriminate…” I know I wouldn’t.

University of Derby and Heriot-Watt University should be congratulated for taking the lead in this sector on Accessibility.

Top ten websites

  1. University of Derby
  2. Trafford College
  3. City College Norwich
  4. Shrewsbury Colleges Group
  5. Fareham College
  6. Chichester College
  7. Robert Gordon University
  8. South Essex College of Further & Higher Education (Partner of the University of Essex)
  9. Myerscough College
  10. Manchester School of Architecture

Five Most improved websites

  • Craven College
  • Harper Adams University College
  • University of Portsmouth
  • South Devon College
  • Cass Business School

The full UK Higher Education Q3 2019 results can be found here: Sitemorse UK & IE Universities & Higher Education INDEX

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