Today I have been writing a section on Disability and Accessibility for a paper for LAK13 entitled “What Can Learning Analytics Contribute to Disabled Students’ Learning and to Accessibility in e-Learning Systems?”. In doing so I had cause to check on the status of the long promised Code of Practice for Higher Education covering the UK’s Equality Act 2010 . I discovered this on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s web site:
Other Codes of Practice
We were intending to produce further statutory codes of practice on the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), which came into force on 5 April 2011, and codes for the Further and Higher Education (FEHE) sector and schools.
Unfortunately, we are no longer able to proceed with these plans. The Government is keen to reduce bureaucracy around the Equality Act 2010, and feels that further statutory guidance may place too much of a burden on public bodies. Although the Commission has powers to issue codes, it cannot do so without the approval of the Secretary of State, as we are reliant upon government to lay codes before parliament, in order for them to be statutory.
It is the Commission’s view that, rather than creating a regulatory burden, statutory codes have a valuable role to play in making clearer to everyone what is and is not needed in order to comply with the Equality Act. However, as this is no longer an option, we feel the best solution is to issue our draft codes as non statutory codes instead. These non statutory codes will still give a formal, authoritative, and comprehensive legal interpretation of the PSED and education sections of the Act and will make it clear to everyone what the requirements of the legislation are.
These now non-statutory codes do not seem to be published yet and with the further discouragement from Government who knows when they will be. I and many others had been eagerly hoping that among other things the statutory codes would have provided clear legal guidance on “reasonable adjustments” generally and web accessibility specifically. It was hoped that they would include reference to the key external accessibility standards: WCAG 2.0 and BS8878.
To my view this is a very retrograde step. The old CoP relating to the previous legislation, the Disability Discrimination Act (1995 as amended 2005) is still available but now has no statutory basis and is outdated in terms of educational practice, web accessibility standards, technology and the law. Available at: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/uploaded_files/code_of_practice__revised__for_providers_of_post-16_education_and_related_services__dda_.pdf
I am now chairing the newly formed Open University Web Accessibility Standards Working Group defining a common web accessibility standard for the OU and developing associated support documentation for managers and developers. This is part of a overall Web Governance Review. This work needs a secure legal underpinning which I had hoped would come from the CoP. It would be helpful is we could authoritatively point to a statutory statement of what is considered as the appropriate level of web accessibility under the term “reasonable adjustment”. That being said it is probably optimistic to think the CoP would have given that.
As commented elsewhere in this blog defining levels of accessibility is problematic. This follows from the fact that accessibility is a property of the relationship between the user and the web resource and depends on the circumstances in which and technology they use to access it. More generally it is a summation of these relationships for the full diversity of potential users. Web accessibility is not, as usually inferred from WACG2.0 and in most work on accessibility metrics, a property of the resource alone. However, organisations in education, commerce and the public sector are longing for a way of authoritatively asserting that they have sufficiently addressed accessibility in terms of their legal obligations.