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World Access to Higher Education Day: How can IncLUDE project contribute?

IncLUDE project celebrates World Access to Higher Education day by bringing awareness on inclusive digital higher education.

Accessibility is crucial to the realisation of more inclusive society. As well as promoting the full development of learners, our education supports our ambitions in the next phases of our lives and also enable us to find work and employment. For many people today, obtaining a higher education qualification is a necessary step to reaching their chosen career path. This 17th November marks the third annual World Access to Higher Education (WAHED). The day aims to raise global awareness of the unfortunate reality of unequal access to higher education, including for persons with disabilities. In today’s increasingly digitalised societies it is important that the accessibility of digital higher education is also addressed.

The onset of the pandemic has highlighted that the ever-expanding digital space lacks accessibility. As many aspects of life moved online due to the pandemic, so did the education sector. While the world marvelled over the fact that, thanks to technology, we could continue living our lives online, there were some who were left behind. 

Enabling access to the internet; ensuring the availability of hardware, such as laptops, and equipping students and teachers with the training and knowledge to use this technology are just a few of the common barriers which fall with the wider debate of the digital divide. Promoting the accessibility of online platforms, tools and hardware for those with additional access needs, such as persons with disabilities, is less commonly discussed, but requires our attention.

While the right to accessible and inclusive education at primary and secondary levels is generally acknowledged,  the inclusivity and accessibility of higher education still lacks focus. While efforts have been made by many universities in Europe to make their campuses more accessible for people from diverse backgrounds, the digital space, however, has revealed barriers to a comprehensive educational experience for all. With assignments and the submission of graded materials being more commonly required online; lecturers increasingly required to provide online learning opportunities and digital tools being used more regularly in class, universities are being pushed to ask themselves how inclusive and accessibility are their digital practices? In fact, in retrospect, the pandemic has amplified the problem of unequal access, which was present, prior to the pandemic.

A study done by Disability Projects Co-ordinator, Munster Technological University (MTU) on exploring the benefits and barriers of e-learning suggests that persons with disabilities faced problems like inaccessible teaching methods and mediums; lack of Universal Design for Learning approaches; and delayed communication. Therefore, there are several barriers that quite a few students with disabilities faced during online classes in university. In fact, it is not just students, even teachers and universities as institutions face challenges. A collective effort is required to ensure inclusion.

To overcome these digital hurdles, the European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities, along with the University of Wolverhampton (UK),Universitaet Klagenfurt (Austria), Universite Rennes II (France)  is a part of the IncLUDE project. Co-funded by the European Union’s Erasmus+ programme, the project aims to create:

  • An online repository that will provide an easy way to search and access free and open tools for online accessibility in English, French and German.
  • A practical, step-by-step resource that guides lecturers through setting up online teaching sessions that are accessible to a wide range of students, including those with disabilities.
  • Guidelines of considerations that can help lecturers to make their teaching scheduling and practice more inclusive.

As we celebrate the World Access to Higher Education Day and join its call on governments, universities to make meaningful commitments towards greater equity in access and participation in higher education, the InclUDE partners hope that the project’s deliverables can help universities take concrete measures towards making online education inclusive in a more comprehensive manner.

To know more about the project, click here