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The stage is set for our AGM

Speakers at this year’s AGM will be demonstrating the exciting use of technology to make theatre accessible to disabled people.

Philippa Cross is General Manager of the Coventry-based Talking Birds Theatre Company. She will be talking about The Difference Engine, a tool for making events and performances accessible to partially-sighted, deaf or hard of hearing audience members by delivering captioning or audio description direct to their mobile device.

Taking a slightly different tack, the National Theatre has spent four years developing Smart Caption Glasses which enable people with hearing loss to see a transcript of the dialogue and descriptions of the sound from a performance displayed on the lenses of special glasses. Technical Director Jonathan Suffolk will explain how the technology works and the benefits it brings.

The AGM is open to anyone from a BATA member organisation. It will be held on February 8 between 10.45 and 2.00, including lunch, at Barclays Headquarters in London. To reserve a place please book here.

Would you like to be more involved with the Association? If you would like to put your name forward to join the Council please contact our secretary Carolyne Smith.

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BATA calls for consultation on changes to DSA tenders

BATA welcomes the Department for Education’s continued commitment to support disabled and neurodiverse students in higher education through the provision of Disabled Student Allowances (DSA).

However, the plans to tender the provision of assistive technology equipment and training, have led to uncertainty about the future of DSA and the wider industry that supports disabled students.

The sector body is calling on government to ensure there is thorough consultation with industry stakeholders, higher education providers and students.

Antony Ruck, Chair of BATA said:

“BATA is continuing its campaign to promote the rights of the users of assistive technology and to ensure the needs of the student are kept at the centre of any decision making.

“Any efforts by DfE to simplify, streamline and expedite the process of providing disabled students with assistive technology to enable them to study to the best of their abilities are broadly welcomed by our members.”

“The current policy of ‘student choice’ with regard to equipment supply and training should be preserved. The DfE must also consider the impact of the reduction in the number of companies supplying equipment and training that is implicit in the current proposal.

“The decision to consolidate both equipment and training means that the expertise of standalone training companies and institutions’ in-house teams may be lost to students. BATA urges the DfE to carefully analyse the consequences of this decision to ensure the best outcome for students.”

The government has been committed to supporting the small, innovative companies that have built the UK’s world leading assistive technology industry. Britain’s DSA system is the envy of many countries in the way it allows disabled students to reach their full potential in higher education at the same time as fostering the development of small, specialist suppliers.

BATA is urging DfE to continue supporting small and medium sized British businesses and reflected this support in the criteria used for award of supply contracts.

The industry body believes it would not be in students’ interests to limit their choice of technology or reduce the quality of the support they receive.

BATA will continue to work with DfE to provide expertise and support to ensure the DSA system continues to provide the best possible outcomes for students.

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Accreditation scheme for DSA AT trainers gets the thumbs up

Efforts to establish the first phase of a DSA accreditation scheme for AT trainers involving certificating trainers in core software have received positive feedback from the Department for Education.

BATA has outlined a proposal to officials for an accreditation scheme that would involve software publishers offering free courses to the up to 300 individual AT trainers providing DSA-funded AT training.

However, it is not clear at this stage how the proposal might be affected by the decision to put the supply of equipment and training under DSA out to tender to a single supplier or small group of suppliers.

At present the DSA-QAG quality body neither requires AT trainers to have any specific qualifications other than a thorough knowledge of assistive technologies, nor has any mechanism to measure the knowledge and experience of AT trainers, resulting in variations in the quality of support provided.

BATA has proposed that a professional membership for AT trainers is made mandatory from January 2020 in order to ensure appropriate quality and consistency of training of AT trainers.

The scheme, run by BATA will offer annual certification that can be checked by DSA-QAG auditors in parallel with professional memberships for other Band Four roles such as specialist one-to-one study skills support and specialist mentoring.

BATA also proposes to offer accessible and cost-effective support to individual AT trainers and training providers on routes to accreditation, with a phased approach planned to minimise disruption in the sector.

All individuals providing AT training (whether as a sole trader or through a training provider) would complete online or in-person Level Two training on the software products deemed as core, currently 14 products in total provided by 13 publishers.

In addition to this, each accredited trainer will be supplied with a free of charge copy of the software title on completion of the accredited course.

In phase two software publishers could opt to deliver Level Three training to enable third party AT training providers to deliver accredited training on their behalf to their own trainers.

BATA proposes to charge under £100 per trainer per annum to cover the cost of the scheme. BATA membership will not be a requirement for accreditation.