Accessibility Coordinators: A model for embedded, sustainable change towards inclusive higher education

Pearson, Victoria; Lister, Katharine and Coughlan, Tim (2019). Accessibility Coordinators: A model for embedded, sustainable change towards inclusive higher education. In: Proceedings of the 12th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation (ICERI 2019), IATED pp. 3127–3136.



Higher education has seen a dramatic change over the last three decades. In this time, it has become open to groups of students that had not historically participated, leading to its democratisation, increased social inclusion and the breakdown of barriers to a previously elitist system. With these changes have come the moral and legislative requirements to ensure that all students, regardless of their circumstances or characteristics, have equitable study experiences. In the UK, higher education institutions have increasingly sought to develop and deliver curricula that are inclusive, particularly for students with disabilities, but changes to funding regimes have placed financial burdens on universities and exposed insecurities and gaps in academic staff skills and knowledge. These issues manifest as attainment gaps and the alienation of students the universities were making efforts to attract.

Many universities seek to promote accessibility of teaching and learning but it can be challenging to operationalise accessibility systematically in institutions. In our UK university, this has been operationalised through a network of Accessibility Coordinators, operating in faculties throughout the university since 2010. These roles have become embedded to enact large-scale, consistent institutional change and have created substantial, sustainable improvements in accessibility and inclusive practice. In 2018, an evaluation of the Accessibility Coordinator role was conducted to assess how the role of Accessibility Coordinator has changed since its inception and investigate how these agents perceive the role needs to further adapt to respond to a changing higher education environment.

In this paper, we present a model of how accessibility advocate roles can become embedded into an institutional structure, how the role may evolve over time and the factors involved in these changes. We review the role, beliefs and perceptions of these advocates by exploring their lived experiences, analysed in the context of change management theories. Finally, we explore how they adopt and adapt to the role, shaping it according to their context, skillset, interests and environment, and forming a change community with other advocates. In sharing this, we seek to posit a model that can be adapted into a framework for other educational institutions to create, embed, support and evaluate accessibility (or other inclusion) advocates in their own contexts.

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