Change vs. Compliance

Every so often, a new regulation comes in to being that scares the sh*t out of everyone. *GDPR flashback*. We rush around to make sure we’re compliant, when what we really want, is long term changes in practice, attitudes and behaviours.

In this post, I’m going to look at the most recent tear stain on my desk. The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations (PSBAR).

A ‘university’ approach to compliance

The issue we have at universities is, we need to get often complex information to lots of people in circumstances that are not always black and white. People have very different contexts and situations in which regulations will apply. One-size-fits-all advice doesn’t really work.

In my experience, university training is usually face-to-face or online. Face-to-face doesn’t really work for compulsory training as the numbers are too large so most often, compulsory training is put online.

Mandatory training usually ends up being a SCORM package someone has made themselves or paid an external company to licence. Everyone is expected to do them and non-completion is monitored. They are usually nothing more than PowerPoints with clicks. They might ask a few questions at the end and then the university can say we have training in place and it has met its obligations.

The topics they cover are often too complex to be condensed. They are dry. Worst of all, people rush through to get it over and done with. It’s an exercise in compliance on the side of the completer too. They complete because they have to, to tick a box, not with the intent to learn anything from it.

SCORM package training is rarely good. Worse than not being good, it gives the VLE, on which they are often hosted, a bad name. If the first contact someone has with the VLE is clicking through compulsory training, it’s not a positive experience. I would happily ban compulsory training from my VLE.

VLEs are not compliance monitoring tools (and I wouldn’t want them to become that). They are a teaching and learning tools. Very little learning happens during compulsory training.

What are the (PSBAR)?

Essentially, the regulations require all websites, online and mobile apps provided by public sector bodies to be accessible to all. There are lots of minutiae, deadlines and exceptions which I won’t go in to here.

Several bodies are trying to make sense of the regulations. What do they mean by public sector, archive, published etc., the definitions are not forthcoming. As always, some organisations are trying to avoid it by stretching these definitions to their limit.

The regulations extend to VLEs, hence, my involvement.

“accessibility requirement” means the requirement to make a website or mobile application accessible by making it perceivable, operable, understandable and robust;”

1.2 The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018

For our VLE I have been required to do two things. Create and publish a VLE accessibility statement, which meant auditing the VLE against the WCAG 2.1 success criterion, and work to resolve as many issues as we can.

PSBAR isn’t really new. There’s always been a legal obligation to be accessible, however, reasonable adjustments have always given us a way out. “I’ll worry about it when it happens” rather than the principle of accessible by design which the regulations are trying to push us toward.

So that’s all sorted then?

Well, to a degree, if compliance = you’ve done the bear minimum required to avoid punishment. My colleagues and I still have a lot of work to do to try and increase the accessibility of our platforms.

The trouble with VLEs (and websites too) is you either lock down your platform so the opportunities to contravene are limited/non-existent or you monitor and *someone* resolves any issues that are found.

I am not, nor do I want to become, the Moodle police and I don’t believe locking down Moodle is in the best interest of the academic community. Even though doing it would be the quickest and simplest way to ensure compliance. Or I could buy an expensive product that gives the appearance of progress.

The trouble is, no one is learning anything.

Isn’t compliance the most important thing?

Depends who you ask. I’m sure legal teams would be very happy if we were compliant and wouldn’t care if anyone actually understood what they had just been ‘trained’ to do.

Particularly where accessibility is concerned. Our obligations are not new. We just chose to ignore them. The best way to ensure accessibility is to ensure it’s part of the design process from the beginning. Accessibility by design ensures content/systems/software are accessible BEFORE it’s made. What’s better. Fixing a problem retrospectively or never having the problem in the first place?

I want everyone to have an understanding of accessibility which they actively apply to their learning content. This will lead to long term embedded change but this is the hard part.

If I put in a technical solution, there is no onus on anyone to understand what they have to do or why they are doing it. I’m not fixing the subsidence, I’m just polyfilla-ing over the cracks.

Is there another way?

Probably not. Sadly. Volume + limited time = few options.

All I’m saying is, there’s a difference between compliance and change.

I’m doing all I can to make us as compliant as possible. I’ve written guidance, am making technical changes where I can and will be delivering training. The trouble is, noone really knows these regs exist and given how little attention they’ve paid thus far to the law, I’m not optimistic I’m going to change the world. That said, I won’t be pushed in to the easy solutions.

We shouldn’t avoid the hard bit. That’s the good stuff. We need to distinguish compliance from practice change. Oh and let’s not fix it with another compulsory bloody online module. Those things embarass us all.

Disabled? I’m not. So what?

Let me start by saying the title of this blog in no way represents my feelings towards disability. I simply used it as a cheap and tawdry device to draw attention to an issue which is often overlooked.

I attended a fantastic training session last week called Dis-ability Confident facilitated by Clare Mclaughlin. I must confess to some reticence about attending this workshop. There is an innate fear of “putting your foot in it” when you attend sessions on such sensitive topics or that you will leave with a glossary of terms that you should or should not say. I had no need to fear. Clare was a superb facilitator and the session was all about empowerment.

“They are not broken, they are who they are.” – Clare Mclaughlin

So why should I care?

It’s the law.

It is very difficult to understand or empathise with disability if you have no direct experience of it. If you look purely at the numbers, there are approximately 9.8 million disabled people in the UK, that’s about 6% of the UK population. It’s easy to think 6% is a small number and question whether reasonable adjustments are necessary or time and cost effective. The 9.8 million figure is purely an estimate, not all who have conditions recognised as a disability identify themselves as disabled.

“It is not what I can’t do that disables me, it’s how society treats me.” – Clare Mclaughlin

There’s no alternative

As an institution we are legally obliged to ensure that all reasonable adjustments are made to ensure that noone is disadvantaged due to a disability. With the removal of the Disable Students Allowance, along with other support for disabled people, there is nothing in place to do the hard work for us. We are out of excuses.

Assumptions

It’s easy to forget that disability covers a wide ranging number of conditions. From those you can see to mental illness and terminal illnesses. As Clare said, because there’s a figure in a wheelchair on the toilet door we all assume that being disabled is purely physical. We assume that people using a wheelchair do so because they cannot stand or walk. This isn’t necessarily true, many use a wheelchair for stamina and strength issues. As Claire said, if we see someone standing up from their wheelchair they haven’t suddenly been cured nor are they defrauding anyone.

 “Put the person first, not the disability.” – Clare Mclaughlin

How someone identifies with disability can be diverse due to cultural, generational or personal experiences. For example, Clare explained that some countries she travels to can assume that the company she works for have not sent their ‘top’ staff due to her hearing aids.

 The Disabled Student

We tend to homogenise the student. There’s the international student, the undergraduate student, the part time student, the postgraduate student, the mature student et al. I have always had a problem with “the student” who we talk a lot about but never see or hear from. (It’s all very Upstairs Downstairs.)

Clare’s point was simple, remove the word disabled and just talk about support that is available to all students. Students are more likely to seek out and identify with support that does not label them as disabled. Many do not wish to be labelled as mentally ill, diabetic, dyslexic etc.

After all, disabled or not, they are all students.