The Texthelp team

How can you remove online barriers to Higher Education?


Every organization strives for excellence, and for educational institutions this means providing the best learning environment for each and every learner. We know that providing a supportive experience for your learners is at the forefront of everything you do, but does your website also live up to your standards?
 


A student working in a classroom

Creating a true first impression

First impressions count, and your website gives prospective students all the information they need to know before deciding if they would like to study with you. It’s important that your content is accessible, so that your welcoming messages are delivered to every single one of your potential future learners. Just as you would make adjustments to physical accessibility, the same should be done within your digital presence, to ensure that your content is equally accessible to individuals with learning or cognitive difficulties. 

Given today’s current global pandemic, this has never been more crucial for educational institutions. In recent research conducted to review the effects of Covid 19 on Higher Education, 45% of US-based high school seniors said they are very likely to look for a different institution, with one of the most commonly cited reasons including doubts about the quality of remote learning. In addition, if institutions have to shift to remote learning in the fall, 32% of students reported that they’re most likely to look for schools with better online capabilities. 

An inclusive and accessible website demonstrates that you’re committed to creating great online experiences for all, and for students with disabilities, this is key. 
 

Ensuring a brighter future, for everyone

Around 13% of Canadians aged between 15 and 24 years identify as having one or more disabilities, and 1 in 10 people have neurodiverse traits, such as dyslexia, ADHD, and aspergers. This means that content is accessed and processed in various different ways. Making sure your web content can be accessed using assistive technologies such as computer readers and screen magnifiers, can help remove some of the barriers neurodiverse students face in accessing higher education.  

This is especially important as we look to the future of education. The current pandemic has seen students around the world moving to remote learning. Educators have had to react to make sure that the supports are still there for every one of their students. Institutions are being prompted to look at their online platforms, to improve the suitability for remote learning. And, for those in the Higher Education sector, they’re working to understand the potential impacts of COVID-19 on enrollment for the year ahead. In fact, 86% of college presidents put fall or summer enrollment numbers at the top of their most pressing issues in the face of COVID-19

As we look to a future where blended learning could very well become a preferred viable model for educational institutions, there has never been a more crucial time to review the inclusivity of your digital communications.
 

Getting one step ahead with legal compliance

Taking the time to review your website and applications process, and making the effort to help increase inclusion for all individuals, can also help you to get one step ahead with legal compliance.

For a long time our increasingly digital world has led to a call for digital inclusion. But today, with the rise of remote learning, this is a calling that can no longer be ignored. The topic of web accessibility is rising up the priority list for many, and equality initiatives, such as Bill C-81, The Accessible Canada Act, aim to protect individuals from barriers they would otherwise face in everyday life. They put the onus on providers of services, to ensure that everyone has equal access to the services they provide, and the tools in place to support diverse needs. 

Whilst at the moment, the Act is applicable to parliament, the Government of Canada, and the federally-regulated private sector, every organization should share their vision - a world where everyone is empowered to participate fully within their communities without barriers. 
 

Attracting a wider and more diverse student body

An accessible website also helps to attract a wider and more diverse student body, including international students who are considering studying in Canada, but where English is not their native language.

As the world’s third-leading destination for international students, a staggering 642,000 foreign students are studying in Canada. This market generates $22 billion annually to the country’s economy.


So what can you do to become more accessible?

Web accessibility standards exist to help organizations become more inclusive. Existing guidelines such as WCAG 2.1 utilize the POUR guidelines, which outline what it means for a website to be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust - in other words, accessible. Accessible websites allow assistive screen readers to read content, so that all site visitors can access content in a way that suits their needs.

Using the POUR guidelines, we have identified some actions you could take to kickstart your efforts and help you on your way to welcoming a diverse student body. In addition, our digital inclusion software, Browsealoud, can be simply added to your website to offer an on site screen reader for the convenience of users. 
 

Image of Texthelper holding binoculars with the letter P
Perceivable

Every element of every website should be discoverable. This means that content should be transformable between formats i.e. images to text, text to audio etc. so that those with visual impairments, hearing limitations and cognitive disorders can perceive it too. 
 

Your Action

Our Solution

Use metadata to provide text alternatives to images

Browsealoud reads alt-tags behind images, to provide oral description to the visually impaired

Minimize visual overload

Simplify feature removes distracting content, so users can focus on what’s important

Ensure downloadable content is accessible too

MP3 generator converts text to audio files for offline listening


Image of Texthelper holding a spanner with the letter O
Operable

Web users with limited movement or tremors may use adaptive devices instead of a keyboard and mouse to access web content.

Your Action

Our Solution

Optimize web code to ensure that all functionality is available from a keyboard

Browsealoud is fully keyboard accessible

Help users navigate and find content

Dual color highlighting shows users where they are on the page

Screen mask helps users to create a focal point

Do not use content that causes seizures

A screen mask can be applied to ‘dim’ the screen

Simplify mode removes distracting content


Image of Texthelper having a light bulb moment alongside the letter U
Understandable

Content that someone can access is not necessarily accessible. The language used can impact whether or not a user can understand the information. 

Your Action

Our Solution

Give users enough time to read and use content

Audio speed and voice can be changed to suit user needs

Ensure text is readable 

Magnifier feature enlarges text size specified by the user

Use language that can be understood by all site visitors

Translate option with 99 languages

Be transparent, so visitors understand what actions to take on the site

Browsealoud communicates content to the user as long as alt-tags are in place

Hyperlink feature announces links to the user when content is read aloud

Help users to avoid and correct mistakes

Audio feature reads text aloud, including information typed into forms, so visitors can identify spelling mistakes


Image of Texthelper holding a checklist alongside the letter R
Robust

Each individual accesses the web using technology which suits their needs and preferences. This includes different devices and browsers. 

Your Action

Our Solution

Optimize your website for use with assistive technologies

The actions on this checklist will help your website to be accessed by screen readers such as Browsealoud

Maximize compatibility with current and future user tools

Browsealoud works across all common browsers and platforms, and is regularly updated

Browsealoud services are hosted on Amazon, to ensure its features are agile, robust and resilient



We’re offering organizations the chance to try Browsealoud on their own websites for free for 90 days. Simply register to receive your free personalized code and discover the benefits for yourself.

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