Creating accessible systems

Kathryn Wenczek, Service Manager for the Learning Services Operations Team in the IT Learning Centre (ITLC), told us about the challenges and rewarding outcomes of digital accessibility and audits when working with external suppliers of Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions. In this case, working collaboratively had positive the initial audit has led to the supplier creating a digital accessibility roadmap for their product, Accessplanit (CoSy).  

Tell us a little about Accessplanit  

CoSy (Course System) is the University's implementation of the Accessplanit course training management tool. It is used by 20 departments, with more due to join in the coming year. It provides an online self-service system for the discovery and management of courses (bookings, cancellations, payments) and other learning activities for delegates, and course administration and reporting for training providers.  

What prompted you to start considering digital accessibility?   

We’ve always considered the accessibility needs of our trainees; several times a week we receive requests relating to accessibility, such as requests to record training courses. We wanted to make sure that all of our users could use the booking system.  

When the University’s Digital Accessibility Working Group commissioned a digital accessibility audit of the top 10 systems at the University, CoSy was included which presented us with an opportunity to progress this work.  

What was the audit process like?  

The audit was carried out by the external consultancy charity AbilityNet who guided us through the scoping phase all the way through to discussing the issues they found. ITLC and Accessplanit found their report comprehensive; it was suitable for both technical and non-technical staff alike, and we were quickly able to identify content issues that we could fix (e.g. headings not marked up correctly on course templates, which was relatively simple to fix and would make a big improvement to a lot of content) versus issues with the platform itself that the supplier would need to address.  

Tell us more about AbilityNet  

AbilityNet is a UK charity specialising in helping organisations become more inclusive and accessible when developing digital products and services. The University has negotiated a framework agreement with them and they can supply consultancy, testing and auditing services.   

How did Accessplanit find the experience working with Oxford and AbilityNet?  

Accessplanit told us that they were very impressed with AbilityNet’s feedback on the accessibility issues - their report was very clear, detailed, and the solutions offered made sense. They have also been very forthcoming with answers to any questions Accessplanit have had post-review.  

What benefits has Accessplanit found from improving digital accessibility?  

Accessplanit commented that initially, it was very educational for their team - they gained a lot of knowledge about how users with additional needs access software and how to build a more inclusive product. They have found that many of the improvements for accessibility also improve the overall usability of the product too. See their accessibility statement and roadmap.  

Do you have advice around procuring an accessible solution from a supplier?  

A great starting point s the University's very useful Accessibility training and resources web page. 

We were very lucky with our internal purchasing team who have put in a lot of effort to ensure that accessibility is integrated into the tenders and request for quotation specifications. They were able to provide some helpful guidance and advice. It’s possible that other purchasing teams across the University are equally helpful. 

What support or guidance do you wish you could have had?  

Ideally, it would be useful if there was a one-page document summarising:  

  • the legislation and our obligations  
  • advice on how to organise an audit  
  • how to deal with issues identified;  
  • how to work with a supplier to develop a roadmap to address issues, and  
  • tips on writing an accessibility statement.   

I also think that more challenging questions should be asked during procurement, and our expectations of potential suppliers should be clear. There should be accountability when we knowingly choose to go with a system that is inaccessible.

At present, I am not aware of any cohesive guidance. I’m hoping some of that may emerge from the new Digital Governance Framework for which a new Head of User Experience is being recruited.

There is also another Digital Transformation piece of work coming along, the Accessibility Assessment project, which is planning to implement some of the quick wins identified in the Digital Transformation Programme’s accessibility investigative, so the digital accessibility landscape at Oxford is going to be changing over the coming months.    

What are your future plans when it comes to digital accessibility?  

To support the ongoing activities needed to maintain an accessible system, we’re planning on setting up a working group with training providers across the University so we can move to everyone using accessible templates. This will involve us engaging with all the training providers, understanding their needs and producing some best practice guidelines to help them. We don’t have the resources within ITLC to 'police' all the course content, but we can put standards in place to encourage it.