Since joining the Inclusive Services group I have had the opportunity to undertake a number of tasks which have assisted in my own understanding of issues within Higher Education which can provide barriers to an equal experience for our students.
As a member of the Customer Service team I am very aware that I’m often a first point of contact for students who may be struggling, or would benefit from extra help and services that they do not know how to access, or even that they exist. I’ve noticed that students are often surprised when I’m able to point them in the direction of software or a service that can assist them. This would indicate that we have much more to do in terms of advertising what we do.
Students do not always open up about their problems, although I’ve found in my prior experience as being at the desk during out of hours period that the quieter time allows more chance for a student to describe what is happening to them. Crucially, we all need to be careful to not assume what a student needs, even in the face of visible disabilities as accessibility is not a one-size fits all. For issues which do not present visibly, this is even more crucial.
I have undergone a number of training sessions which aim to raise awareness of the issues that students from different cultures may face and to also understand more about the experiences of LGBT students. In addition, there has also been practical training (whether online or within a classroom) which provides further signposting to how we can help. For example, some online training has emphasised setting boundaries for what you can safely provide for students suffering from mental health conditions, such as being unable to guarantee confidentiality and, through not being a trained counsellor, to be careful with the advice provided.
In my role on the Customer Service team my role mainly involves signposting to the Wellbeing or International offices for example as I’m aware that they have more expertise than I would. It also involves suggesting that students may be able to visit the Transcription Centre for help with lectures in different formats or that we have suitable spaces within the library for visually impaired students which can help them.
I have experienced University as a student and so understand some of the pressures, but also what the University is able to offer. As a result, I’ve used assistive technology in order to pace my delivery of a paper at a conference. The ReadandWrite software allowed me to add my essay and then have it compiled into an audio mp3 format. From that, I could see the time it would take to deliver without intonations and use this to better organise it.
I have also used (and later researched) screen readers. It is so tempting to consider a screen reader an infallible tool, but they are at their most useful on well-designed sites. I have assisted students to change the way they check their email from online versions to apps, which offer far better accessibility in the form of keyboard shortcuts. It was not until I attempted to use a reader myself that I truly realised how overwhelming the amount of information given can be. Sometimes, it is this direct, empathic experience which is the greatest tool in thinking about how we provide information and how we can make that more robust.
Taking part in an audit of accessibility of various ebook platforms also demonstrated that there is lots to be done to improve services. A large, multi-institution project sought to collate how easy accessible information was to find on a number of publisher sites, asking users to fill out a questionnaire. It was disheartening to see how few publishers made finding accessibility information a priority. A simple rule was given: If you cannot find it within 5 minutes, say it isn’t available. This showed me how incredibly difficult and time-consuming it can be trying to find resources for even the most simple adjustments. I admire our Transcription Centre hugely in how they quickly turn around lectures in different formats, across a range of specialist subjects so our hard working students can make the most of their time here.
In terms of my badge – I wear it with a sense of pride, although with some reticence. With the range of adjustments to be made, it would be very difficult to be an expert on everything. However, I hope that my badge represents that I am someone who is open to listening and finding a solution. Indeed, Customer Service presents a number of challenges in working out new and better ways of carrying out tasks. The inclusive services group offers a great opportunity for sharing knowledge and instantly thinking “I know someone who can help with that”. The badge does not mean I know everything, but it does mean I’ll listen.
iss February 8th, 2019
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