OERs and accessibility

In order to turn a pre-existing resource into an OER, a number of steps have to be followed so that potential users can easily find the resource and then use it for their own teaching and learning. One of these steps would involve formatting the resource so that it is more accessible and thus meets the technical requirements of the OER programme as well as the relevant legislative requirements.

Importantly, the phase 2 OER projects are taking place in the context of new equality and anti-discrimination legislation, that is, the Equality Act 2010 which was implemented on 1 October 2010, replacing the existing anti­-discrimination laws (including the 2005 Disability and Discrimination Act) with a single legal document. Full implications of the single equality act for the provision of teaching and learning in Higher Education Institutions are yet unknown. Nevertheless, as the scope of the act is broader, then issues of accessibility within educational context, including online learning and open education might also become more pressing for higher education institutions. Specifically, within the 2005 DDA, reasonable adjustments to premises, policies and practices had to be made by service providers only where a disabled person would find it “impossible or unreasonably difficult” to use the service. Now, under the new Equality Act, adjustments must be made where disabled people could experience a “substantial disadvantage”. This means that service providers, including higher education institutions creating OERs, may have to make more adjustments to cater for the needs of the learners; this might also mean that accessibility should become one of key concerns for projects engaged in developing a cascade support framework for OERs.

Within the pilot programme, a number of projects stressed the cost implied in producing fully accessible open educational resources. For instance, the Open Engineering Resources final report noted that addressing accessibility issues took up a significant chunk of partners’ time and resources devoted to the project. Some projects found out that producing accessible resources was financially out of their reach, especially if they were keen on repurposing media resources, as was noted in OpenSpace University College Falmouth final report:

One lessoned learn was the cost of producing transcripts to accompany audio and video files and the cost of close captioning. Transcripts and close captioning fall within best practice for accessibility. Quotes received from prospective service providers were prohibitively high and this work was not possible under the allocated budget.

Despite these concerns, in the long-term perspective OERs could actually spread this burden among many individuals and many institutions. Importantly, the open education movement provides free access to courses, curricula and pedagogical approaches not available locally. This way, positive approaches towards accessibility could easily be shared between creators of open content and its re-users, since OER, by definition, are amenable to different solutions, engineered by whoever has the appropriate expertise.  Furthermore, OERs, which carry an open licence (usually a Creative Commons licence(, can be transformed into alternate formats more easily than materials published under all rights reserved copyright, since there is no need to incur extra permission costs or pay royalties for adaptations to ensure accessibility. At least theoretically, OERs offer the re-users the possibility to deliver customisable teaching materials, adapted to the needs of individual learners and so the freedom to improve and adapt could be extended to making materials more accessible. Whether and if such a change takes place, remains to be seen.

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