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Survey: Accessibility Challenges Persist as Hybrid and Online Learning Continues

With fully online or hybrid course formats still very much in play at colleges and universities around the world, accessibility issues remain a key challenge, according to a recent study. To find out the state of accessibility in higher education, transcription and captioning company Verbit commissioned a survey of both higher ed professionals and students in North America, the United Kingdom and Australia about accessible materials and technologies in use on their campuses, their familiarity with students' accessibility needs, and the pain points involved. Respondents numbered 132 campus leaders and 100 students with a noted disability; responses were collected between April and May of this year.

The majority of respondents (72 percent) said their institution currently conducts at least half of all courses virtually or online, and 85 percent said they plan to continue in a fully online or hybrid format through the Fall semester. Most schools (89 percent) are using web conferencing tools for synchronous classes, with the most popular platforms being Microsoft Teams (77 percent), Zoom (62 percent) and Google Meet (57 percent).

More than half of respondents (54 percent) said that student engagement is currently their biggest challenge. Institutions have employed a number of strategies to help keep students engaged in remote learning environments. The top method used: sharing more videos to enhance lectures, cited by 93 percent of respondents. That's followed by creating opportunities for peer-to-peer engagement (86 percent), using interactive technologies (80 percent), encouraging students to keep video cameras on (79 percent), offering assistive technologies (79 percent), conducting attendance-based activities that affect grades (73 percent) and incorporating more Universal Design for Learning principles (66 percent).

Accessibility challenges ranked in the top three pain points for institutions, after student engagement and retention. And 75 percent of respondents suggested that COVID-19 had played an evident role in impacting inclusion and accessibility at their schools. The top challenges holding institutions back from investing more in accessibility: lack of budget and/or resources (cited by 40 percent of respondents), lack of buy-in for accessibility/inclusion technologies (38 percent), lack of staff knowledge (38 percent), lack of awareness of existing solutions (35 percent) and lack of time (27 percent). Another key factor: Less than half of students actually disclose their disabilities, according to 94 percent of survey respondents.

The most commonly offered accessibility accommodations for students include: recording and transcribing lectures (cited by 50 percent of respondents), providing live captioning and transcriptions during lectures (44 percent), providing note-takers (44 percent), recording lectures without transcription (35 percent), providing sign language interpreters (35 percent) and offering audio description (35 percent). But these types of services are rarely provided proactively: Just 8 percent of respondents said accommodations are in place everywhere throughout the institution. For many institutions, accommodations are provided only when a student reports a need for their classes to the disability department (cited by 46 percent of respondents), when a student requests them for specific content (41 percent) or when designing a new academic program (41 percent).

Ultimately, nearly all students surveyed (92 percent) said that high-quality accessibility tools and accommodations have a positive impact on their learning and engagement.

"Since these technologies do make a substantial difference to learners, it's likely that institutional leaders who do more to suppress faculty fears associated with using them and encourage more training will witness improved engagement, retention and success for their students," the report concluded.

The full report is available on the Verbit site (registration required).

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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