Archive for the 'Law' Category

Disabled students in Japanese Higher Education – a time for change

The Open University of Japan (OUJ) hosts an annual international symposium on matters relating to higher education.  This year the theme was supporting disabled students in this context and in particular the role of ICT here.  [See:] This is timely because the Japanese Act on the Elimination of Disability Discrimination was enacted in 2013. From 2016, this means public universities are legally obliged to provide reasonable accommodation to students with disabilities, while private universities are expected to make diligent efforts to provide this for them.  The Japanese’s own perception is that they are about 30 years behind the USA and UK in this regard.  The symposium consisted of a presentation from the host organisation and four invited speakers, two from the USA, a Japanese leader in the field and myself from the UK.  Each presented on key themes from which the delegates from across the Japanese higher education sector could reflect and draw from in their own context.  Disabled students are currently very under-represented in Japanese higher education; in fact the Open University in the UK alone has more disabled students studying with it than across the whole of the higher education across Japan.

This blog posts discusses some of the lessons I learnt from this my first visit to Japan and impressions I gained.  It is the beginning of an exciting period in Japan that should see an increase in the representation of disabled people in the university student body and significant enhancements in the provision of appropriate support for them.

The numbers game

Takeo Kondo, of the University of Tokyo, gave some detail of the current situation in Japanese higher education and compared it with the USA and the UK.

The official 2014 published statistics showed Students with Disabilities (SWDs) in Japanese Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) numbered 13,449 out of 3,213,518 (0.42% out of all students including undergraduate and graduate students). [JASSO, 2014]

This was compared with  U.S figures for undergraduates in 2009 of  10.8% (19,155,000 out of 2,076,000) [US GAO, 2009];

and the UK figures  of SWDs among the 740,000 first year students enrolled in higher education in 2012 as 73,000 (9.8%). [HESA, 2014]

At the Open University in the UK  in 2013/14 there were over 18,000 undergraduate students declaring a disability: more than 14% of all OU undergraduates. [Internal Data]

The symposium chair, Prof. Hirose, stated that in 2013, there were 90,154 students studying with the Open University in Japan, of whom 698 had declared a disability (0.77%):

  • Visual impairment: 168 students
  • Hearing impairment: 32 students
  • Physically handicapped & sickly individuals (sic): 331 students
  • Others: 167 students

There needs to be some care when comparing such statistics as different classifications of disability may have been used. Further, all these figures are based on self-declaration of disability.  There may be cultural reasons why less disabled students declare their disability at Japanese universities and certainly, with much more limited support currently available for them, there is less incentive for them to do so.  Why declare a disability if it makes no difference to the university’s provision of support?

However, even given these caveats it is clear that SWDs are significantly underrepresented in Japanese higher education compared with the USA and the UK, maybe by a factor of 20.   Takeo Kondo’s presentation went on to give data on the changes of the Japanese data over time and a breakdown of the representation of different disability types.

Reflections on discussions

There was a formal discussion panel at the end of the symposium which addressed selected questions that had been submitted in writing during the day.  The fact that far more questions were submitted than could be addressed in the time was indicative of the delegates concern for the topic.  The speakers had spent 3 hours the previous day having a tour of the Open University of Japan and in less structure discussion with about 10 of their staff.  This section summarises and comments on key themes that arose in both these contexts.

Both from the organisers of the symposium and the delegates it was obvious there was a high degree of anticipatory anxiety about what the change in law means they need to do and whether they have the means to do it.  This could be compared to a commonly expressed anxiety in UK HEIs when the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was extended to include education with the coming into effect of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) in 2001.  As well as anxiety about what needs to be done and how to do it there is also an anxiety about how this will be funded.

It was noted that the pedagogic models of the Open University in Japan and the Open University in the UK were very different.  The former is much more of a transmission of expertise style.  There is little discussion between students and lecturers and they do not deploy tutors.  This has significant implications for how support is best offered to disabled students.  At the OU in the UK if a student with disabilities encounters particular problems it is likely to be their tutor that first aware of this.

The difference in disabled student numbers between Japan and the UK or USA is very marked.  More research would be needed to fully understand this.  Certainly the historical lack of provision of support is a factor.  However other factors may be more significant.  One area here is the impact of the Japanese school system.  From the brief discussions had this appears very proscriptive both in terms of curriculum and style of teaching.  There is a strong emphasis on tradition skills such as well-formed hand writing of Japanese characters.  It appears that if for any reason a school pupil does not fit into this well, which might be because of a disability, they are likely to fall behind educationally and not develop aspirations to go onto higher education.

Concluding Comments

The law is seen very much as a driver for change.  This may well be the case and it was a factor in the enhancement of provision for disabled students in the UK following SENDA in 2001.  However law alone will not affect a substantive change.   Meeting the agenda of widening participation of higher education to be more inclusive of disabled people will have to become part of the value system of Japanese HEIs.  It is going to require a commitment beyond meeting of the letter of the law.  It will need institutional change not just the setting up of specialist support units.  The Japanese perceive themselves to be 30 years behind the USA and UK.  However, it need not take them 30 years to catch-up if there is the political will to affect change throughout the educational system.  I mean to maintain a watching brief on this transition and hopefully undertake some detailed research on it with Japanese colleagues.


HESA, 2014 – Higher Education Statistics Agency (2014) Statistical First Release 197: 2012/13 first year students by Disability.

JASSO, 2014 – Japan Student Services Organization (2014) Fact finding survey on supporting higher educational opportunities for students with disabilities (in Japanese)

US GAO, 2009 – U.S. Government Accountability Office (2009) HIGHER EDUCATION AND DISABILITY  Education Needs a Coordinated Approach to Improve Its Assistance to Schools in Supporting Students



New paper on planning for professionalism in accessibility

Just published in journal Research in Learning Technology is a paper I am a co-author on entitled:

Adapting online learning resources for all: planning for professionalism in accessibility

This blog post is a bit of shameless self publicity for this paper but is shared because we believe it contains important lessons for those seeking to address accessibility for disabled students especially in Higher Education.  The abstract and link to the full text follow:

Adapting online learning resources for all: planning for professionalism in accessibility

Patrick McAndrew, Robert Farrow and Martyn Cooper

Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK

(Received 7 May 2012; final version received 24 October 2012; Published 19 December 2012)


Online resources for education offer opportunities for those with disabilities but also raise challenges on how to best adjust resources to accommodate accessibility. Automated reconfiguration could in principle remove the need for expensive and time-consuming discussions about adaptation. On the other hand, human-based systems provide much needed direct support and can help understand options and individual circumstances. A study was carried out within an EU-funded accessibility project at The Open University (OU) in parallel with studies at three other European universities. The study combined focus groups, user-testing, management consultation and student survey data to help understand ways forward for accessibility. The results reinforce a holistic view of accessibility, based on three factors: positioning the university as a positive provider to disabled students; developing processes, systems and services to give personal help; and planning online materials which include alternatives. The development of a model that helps organisations incorporate professionalism in accessibility is described, though challenges remain. For example, a recurrent difficulty in providing adequate self-description of accessibility needs implies that a completely automated solution may not be attainable. A more beneficial focus, therefore, may be to develop systems that support the information flow required by the human “in the loop.”

Keywords: inclusion; students with disabilities; services; personalisation; evaluation; virtual learning environments; EU4ALL

The full text is freely available under a Creative Commons license at:

Your comments would be most welcome!

UK Government cancels Code of Practice for Higher Education on Equality Act 2010

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:

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.

Martyn Cooper

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