Social inclusion and as a related issue accessibility of information appear to come up more often in the European but also national discourses as priorities to look at. Usually, people agree that both are important. Not always they see it as part of their work. And often, people do not know how what to do about it and how.
European Schoolnet contributed to the development of guidelines on accessible information, within the ICT4IAL project. We as project partners hope that they will help others working in the field of education to get started on making their information more accessible and becoming more inclusive.
One of the things we have learned during the project is that while becoming a 100% accessible organisation is still a long way to go for us and many others, there are numerous small steps that are fairly easy to implement. The following points can give you an idea:
- Alternative versions: digital, transcript…
- Check for accessibility: using built-in tools (PDF, word etc.)
- Contrast colours
- Electronic version: use built in tools, latest software
- Sans serif fonts
- Size: minimum font size
The guidelines give a more complete picture, also providing tips on more demanding tasks like making audio, video or online resources accessible. They are now available in 23 languages.
On 11 December 2015, the guidelines were presented and discussed during the international conference ‘Information accessibility for Learning. From Development to implementation of guidelines’, kindly hosted by the Polytechnic University of Milan. The conference participants highlighted numerous enablers necessary to make accessible information becoming the norm in the education sector: The involvement of a broad range of stakeholders is necessary, funding at different levels, and more teacher training is key.
While a lot still needs to happen on a structural level, we invite all teachers, teacher trainers, policy makers and others interested not to wait for others to make a start. The guidelines are an open educational resource. Have a look at them, try them out, adapt them to your needs and talk to your colleagues about it.
A lot of discussion in the area still focuses on the why? Obvious arguments are the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities from 2006, signed by 147 countries including all EU countries, impressive figures on the numbers of people with disabilities around the world and an ageing population which means more old people also benefiting from accessible information. All that is true beyond doubt but perhaps one new year’s resolution could be to spend less time on discussing the why and more time on finding concrete steps to make accessible information a reality not only, but also in European classrooms.
There is a lot of excellent initiatives in the field of social inclusion that already show us how to make some change. One of them is the Orchestra Sinfonica Esagramma, a Social Cooperative based in Milan. Licia Sbatella, Associate Professor at the Polytechnic University of Milan and Scientific Director of Esagramma, invited the
ICT4IAL partners to a participative performance of the orchestra. The orchestra is composed of children with special needs and professional musicians – and for that performance also the ICT4IAL partners. It already performed in front of the Vatican and the European Parliament and is always open to new invitations.
For me personally, it was a great experience to make music together with a diverse group of people as part of such a special orchestra. It really showed me how a professional and dedicated team can bring people together. Without any prior knowledge or musical talent, I was able to contribute to a common learning experience. It is initiatives like this who in 2016 and beyond will continue to contribute to making a reality of promises upheld in conventions and political discourses, and encourage other stakeholders to tackle some of the barriers to making accessible information widely available in education.