Procuring with everybody in mind: Supporting Universities to adopt AS EN 301 549
Accessibility experts from Intopia and the Council of Australasian University Directors of Information Technology (CAUDIT) are working with ADCET and the NDCO Program to develop an implementation guide which will provide Universities with practical guidance about procuring ICT products and services with accessibility as an essential criterion.
The guide will focus on demonstrating how to adopt AS EN 301 549 in procurement policies, procedures and practice, with a view to building a more accessible future by design in Higher Education.
Recent National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) research conducted by Associate Professor Tim Pitman focused on students with disability in Higher Education and recommended that Higher Education institutions make greater efforts to adopt principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL):
UDL ensures that buildings, technology, products, and services can be used by virtually everyone, regardless of ability. The greater the level of accessibility, the greater the number of students who will not need reasonable adjustments made to their educational experience. This should be a focus for the increasing use of online and remote learning technologies. Directly quoted from: (Pitman, 2022)1
A part of the UDL puzzle, as noted, is the procurement of accessible ICT products and services. In 2017, Vision Australia conducted a survey of university students who are blind or have low vision, to benchmark their experiences studying at the Higher Education level in Australia. The findings, presented in their 2018 report ‘On-Line but Off-Track’ , presented several factors as significant barriers and provided important recommendations.
The factors identified were:
- Inaccessibility of key components of online learning environments, such as discussion boards and collaborative tools, to the most common assistive technology used by people who are blind or have low vision.
- Lack of understanding and timely support from disability services staff.
- Unwillingness of lecturers to make changes to course delivery formats to make them more accessible.
- Inconsistency in the provision of reasonable adjustments.
Directly quoted from: (Vision Australia, 2018)2
Key recommendations from the report included that training and guidelines be developed to support Higher Education providers relating to students who are blind or who have low vision, and that Universities Australia (UA) work with universities to adopt the Australian Standard EN 301 549 Standards for Accessible ICT Procurement.
Supporting these recommendations, ADCET, the NDCO Program and Blind Citizens Australia (BCA) released guidelines and e-learning that focuses on supporting students who are blind or who have low vision. These resources draw on some of the great practice in the Higher Education sector and shares ideas, strategies, and understandings.
However, this work primarily supports the ‘right now’ needs of students who will require reasonable adjustments. Then, there is the things we can do proactively relating to design, including buying ICT products suitable for (almost) all users.
Australia formally adopted EN 301 549 with ratification by Standards Australia in 2016, providing a reference point for federal (and state) governments to work with vendors on a universally accepted standard for accessible procurement (Pycroft, 2017)3.
The standard includes details about required specifications to support a variety of human variance, including vision, hearing, speech, dexterity, neurological triggers, neurodiversity, cognition, and privacy.
EN 301 549 covers off on practical elements of procurement for technologies including and beyond the web: terminals, office equipment, voice and telecommunications, hardware, software, workstation specifications and more (ETSI, 2021)4.
Adopting these standards is one of the levers that may support the Higher Education sector to meet their obligations under the Disability Standards for Education and proactively supports the policy direction provided in Australia's Disability Strategy Priority 3: Improve pathways and accessibility to further education and training for people with disability (Commonwealth of Australia, 2021)5.
The implementation guide will support Universities towards this by providing:
- Templated or exampled accessible procurement policies
- Templated or exampled contract clauses for insertion as appropriate to support vendors to meet AS EN 301 549
- Practical scenarios and stories of how procuring well has supported success for students and staff
- Example testing procedures to evaluate potential purchases against the standards
- Guidance relating to existing software and hardware about how and why to enable accessibility features
- Guidance about what Universities can do quickly and now, to make fast inroads for current and future students and staff.
While the guide will be written to focus on the experiences of students and staff, it is also important to note that the public who access University materials, locations, and software (for example in public meetings, forums, events, or conferences) will also benefit.
The implementation guide is currently scheduled to be released by October 2022 and the team at ADCET and the NDCO Program look forward to working with the sector over the following months to make it as useful and practical as possible.
1 Commonwealth of Australia. (2021). Australia's Disability Strategy 2021-2023. Canberra: Department of Social Services.
2 ETSI. (2021). Accessibility requirements for ICT products and services. Brussels: CENELEC.
3 Pitman, T. (2022). Supporting persons with disabilities to succeed in higher education: Final report. . Perth: National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Curtin University.
4 Pycroft, C. (2017). EN 301 549: What it means for Australia. Melbourne: Intopia.
5 Vision Australia. (2018). Online, But Offtrack. Kooyong: Vision Australia.