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The impact of EU’s accessibility directive on higher education

At the moment the EU is still  finalising the  details of how its accessibility directive will need to be implemented by universities and colleges but we expect to have details from the UK government in the next couple of months.

However, the indications so far is that this will apply to FE and HE websites (schools are exempt). As soon as we have clearer details we will be disseminating them. You can access the directive toolkit here.

At this time there are few important points to be aware of…

  • The first requirement for this directive will impact any new websites created after 23 September 2018 which must meet the accessibility requirements by 23 September 2019. As projects may already have started for websites and resources that will be launched in the autumn term, its critical that these teams are aware of requirement.
  • The accessibility standard that this directive requires isn’t just for websites, it also includes online documents (e.g. PDFs, PowerPoint files) and in the future it will also cover intranets and mobile apps.
  • The directive also covers websites and tools that public bodies procure so your procurement teams within IT, the library, faculties etc need to be aware and asking suppliers how the confirm to this directive.

Alistair McNaught (from JISC) and I will be delivering a session at the NADP conference in June on “Achieving digital accessibility in Further and Higher Education” so we will be covering this directive in more detail. And once we have clarity from the EU and UK government about the processes for monitoring websites and other technical issues, we will also be disseminating training resources.

Although this may sound like more work, as disability professionals I believe this will help us raise the profile of digital accessibility within our institutions and engage with the procurement and technical staff who need to implement this directive. The outcome will hopeful be a more inclusive and accessible teaching, learning and working environment for all of us involved with Further and Higher Education.

Dr Abi James
Research Fellow Accessibility Team, WAIS, ECS University of Southampton, Consultant, Assistive Learning Ltd, BDA New Technologies committee.

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Students glued to Sticky Campus

Westminster University played host last month to Sticky Campus, a touring roadshow of technology that persuades students to stay on campus even though they have no teaching to attend.

Features of the Sticky Campus include six height adjustable tables for students to sit round and plug their personal devices into, enabling them to access a larger screen on which they can work on documents together.

Inclusive learning is a key feature of the roadshow. Students using assistive technology can take part on equal terms with non-disabled students, using their specialist applications to collaborate.

Hannah, a final year photography student, showed those who attended the demonstration how she can organise her notes as a mind map and use the map to present her ideas to a group on a big screen.

Similarly, a student with a visual impairment uses Zoom magnification technology to work on a document and show this to others without the Zoom enlargement showing up on the others’ screens.

Short training videos, developed by Wyvern Business Systems for those with specialist hardware and software needs, are part of what’s available on the Sticky Campus.

So far two universities have demonstrated the £70,000 system, but Duncan  Peberdy, an expert on interactive learning who developed the Sticky Campus roadshow aims to have a network of ten universities eventually.

Seema Malhotra MP, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for AT was concerned that technology should keep disabled people in education and in work. “Higher education institutions have a duty to create an inclusive learning environment,” she said. “There is concern about completion rates and the grades obtained (by students).”

Lib Dem peer Lord Addington, President of the British Dyslexia Association, was more forthright. “One message is you’ve got the kit but  you’ve got the problem of making the two work together, that is the challenge,” he said.

“It is a great series of tools. If you use them you will get a cheer, if you don’t you’ll get your backside kicked.”

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BATA’s Special Interest Groups have a public group you can join called AT Educationalists. Click here to let us know if you would like to join this group to further the cause of AT in the education sector. If you are a teacher, a lecturer or a professional working in schools , colleges and universities this group is for you.

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Annual meeting reaches a high

Some 35 members attended BATA’s annual general meeting high up in Barclays HQ building in London’s Canary Wharf. Apart from the formal business of reports and appointments, those who came also heard from three first class speakers who, from different angles,  addressed issues around applying AT in the workplace. For a fuller account read the minutes here.

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Jack Churchill joins the Board

Jack Churchill , BATA Council MemberJack Churchill, the dynamic co-founder of Scanning Pens, the company that sells portable pen scanners that support struggling readers in the classroom, exam hall and workplace, has joined BATA’s board.

“Technology is an amazing enabler, breaking down barriers and affording  people ways to manage on their own,” says Jack.

“To support students and teachers, Scanning Pens, the company I co-founded 13 years ago, supplies electronic pen scanners that support children and adults to be independent readers.”

As an exporter, Jack has a particular interest in developing overseas markets and networking with companies who are looking to do the same. He chairs BATA’s special interest group. AT Global which aims to support UK assistive technology firms looking to move into international markets.

Jack can be contacted at



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See you at Naidex

Naidex, Europe’s most established disability, rehabilitation and independent living event is taking shape.

The BATA partner show will return to the Birmingham NEC on April 25 and 26 for a 44th edition which promises to be the best yet, say the organisers.

BATA will be there on stand 5160. Register for your FREE ticket here.

Hosting some of the world’s latest assistive technologies, Naidex offers visitors the chance to meet over 300 world class exhibitors including BATA members DH2 Solutions and Sensory Guru.

This year’s seminar agenda is also full of top speakers including:

  • Sarah Newton, the Minister of State for Disabled People Work and Health
  • Paul Bepey, Accessibility Lead at the BBC
  • Heather Fraser, Global Lead for Life Sciences and Healthcare at the IBM Institute for Business Value
  • Samantha Payne, Co-Founder of Open Bionics
  • Nasser Siabi, CEO of MicrolinkPC
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Combining & Integrating Technologies


“All I want to do is search the internet and watch my films”  AbilityNet Client


Sounds straightforward? But in practise when you are:-

  • totally blind
  • no hand/finger function

It is incredibly difficult to do! 

I have been working with this client for over 18 months now. We have looked at a variety of solutions. Echo Dot has been successful in giving the client a leisure activity playing music and accessing books and games using her voice to control . The Amazon Fire Stick is the next project to integrate with the Echo Dot to extend the range of programs with audio description available. It does have a menu that is spoken but requires the remote to scan the menu- not possible with no hand/finger function.

So it was a joy when using Dragon Dictate 13 and Sero ( and found that simple commands such as “SEARCH” “PRESS ENTER” and “TAB” could navigate and select items on Sero that the client used to be able to do.

I now have the task of trying to get the laptop to start up and switch down. Once the on button is pressed the client can control all the computer’s functions at startup. One solution is to never shut the laptop down. Have it go into hibernation and then wake it up with a command. This is my next goal along with making the Amazon Fire stick do more than “stop” and “play” a channel using the Echo Dot as input.

Simple questions like the one this post started with often have quite complex answers which frustrates the client/user. In an ideal world we would just love the tech to just work and integrate seemlessly with each other. Ah well…. role on Artifical Intelligence which does offer that possibility!


Myles Pilling

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Spellex wins presidential backing

A US member, the literacy software company Spellex, was recently praised by President Donald Trump for giving employees a $1,000 bonus.

Spellex was singled out in a speech by the President for paying “a tax cut bonus” along with AT&T and Apple, following a reduction in corporation tax.

“Normally I don’t promote my company to other CEOs and owners, especially in relation to politics, but how often does the president of a country praise your company?” asked Spellex CEO Sheldon Wolf.

See the first 20 second of this video of the speech

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BATA’s evidence on AT and work

BATA gave evidence in January to the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s inquiry into assistive technology. The inquiry is about the role all types of assistive tech can play in removing barriers to work and helping disabled people stay in work. Our submission, along with those of other organisations has now been published on the Committee’s website.

Our submission is as follows:

Assistive technology is a critical element in enabling more disabled people to get into work and to close the long-standing employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people.

The British Assistive Technology Association welcomes last year’s Green Paper on Work, Health and Disability and believes much more could be done to harness the enabling power of assistive technology than at present.

The UN committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities criticised what it described last year as the failure of the UK government to recognise the rights of disabled people to live independently in the community. Ensuring that well-designed and effective assistive technology is readily available to disabled people who are increasingly being asked to find work, would go a long way to countering the UN’s criticism.

While Access to Work is a powerful enabler for disabled people in the workplace, the grant scheme requires a radical overhaul to reduce bureaucratic delays and make assessments less threatening. The scheme is still not widely known about among employers, so a determined programme of promotion is vital in raising awareness. BATA would also recommend an end to the £42,000 cap which disadvantages a small minority of applicants.

Disabled people would also benefit if they were able to take equipment and software with them when they move job to make the move as seamless as possible. The current situation whereby the employer is the notional owner of their employee’s personal assistive technology makes no sense.

In the same vein, more could be done to ease the move from education into work, with students being able to take the technology they are familiar with at school or university with them into work.

Assistive technology could be much more affordable for employees if the rules governing the zero rating for VAT of goods designed for disabled people were clarified. The British Assistive Technology Association has worked with HMRC to update current guidelines to reflect changes in technology and to extend the concession to include more recent mobile technologies, but these have yet to be published.

Assistive technology must be applied sensitively and be available to all employees wherever possible to ensure that so that those who need AT can use it without marking themselves out as different: one reason many disabled people are reluctant to identify themselves as needing assistance. Ubiquitous assistive technology has been shown to improve productivity for all employees.

Many disabled employees are hampered in work by the inaccessibility of the digital services they use and although accessibility of online services is required under the Equality Act little has been done to enforce the law.

Although the Disability Confident campaign has been effective, many employers are still unwilling to make the reasonable adjustments required under the Equality Act. They are being short sighted since a diverse workforce is likely to be at once both multi-talented and more productive than a traditional one.

In future that technology is likely to play an even more important role in enabling disabled people to work. People with sensory and physical impairments could benefit greatly from the development of robotics, artificial intelligence and driverless vehicles. The Government should do all it can to ensure the development of these technologies benefits disabled people by supporting research and development in these areas and aiding the development of a UK assistive technology industry.