View Dyslexie font  |  View high contrast
Subscribe to the ADCET newsletter
Practice Spotlight

Accessibility and support that adapts to your organisation - University of Newcastle and Microsoft Unified Enterprise Support

Photo of the University of Newcastle Team Winners of ADCETs Accessibility in Action Award

It would be safe to say that Microsoft is embedded in many tertiary education providers across Australia. Students and staff alike use a range of applications – Outlook, Teams, OneDrive, SharePoint, Word, OneNote, PowerPoint, and more. It is usually provided for free to students and staff and applied to all facets of work and study. If you have a question about one of the apps you contact your technology department, but who supports your technology department? 

Microsoft Unified is an option for organisations to build into their ICT (Information and Communications Technology) procurement which provides a range of supports. This may include dedicated support hours for ICT departments to maintain IT health, co-design and implement IT solutions, trouble-shoot emerging issues, and providing digital resources such as self-service tools and training. 

It is this last element that many tertiary education providers are under-utilising and one which The University of Newcastle has harnessed to drive accessibility within their institution.  

Digital Technology Solutions (DTS) within the University saw the immediate potential in looking to maximise the benefits from its Microsoft support hours. 

Led by Sam Rykers, Customer Success Lead within DTS, it was important to utilise the support hours under Microsoft Unified w project that would have maximum impact and therefore the focussed on accessibility awareness and training for staff.  

“We knew we had some challenges in this area especially since the impact of COVID and online course delivery so we held a series of workshops in 2022 to highlight the existing accessibility features in Microsoft and Zoom that staff, especially those in teaching and learning, could access now,” Sam said.

“As part of this project we leveraged the support of champions in the leadership team and collaborated with our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Unit and Teaching and Learning colleagues. It’s important to connect with the right people across the organisation to get whole-of-institution impact,” Sam explained.

The University added informative articles to their knowledge database that staff in service areas could draw on including accessibility features within the Microsoft suite (e.g., accessibility checker, immersive reader, voice recognition), types of assistive technologies available and how to access them, services provided by their Adaptive Technology Centre, and tips for creating accessible learning materials. 

The University also wanted to empower students to seek out their own solutions and encourage students to call D.A.D! The Disability Answer Desk or D.A.D is a 24-hour online resource with options to explore, chat online or call to ask about accessibility features within Microsoft.  

“D.A.D has been especially great for students because they get assistance anytime and chances are that the person on the other end has a disability too and understands the any particular needs that student has is accessing specific technology features,” Sam said. 

While the University is on its way to achieving greater accessibility for all, there is still a long journey ahead given the pace of change. The support from Microsoft’s Accessibility, Adoption & Change Management team is welcomed, with the ability for other tertiary providers to make the most of their support hours.  

The University of Newcastle will soon release a new module for Teaching and Learning staff on creating accessible learning materials and now requires all new ICT pilot projects to consider accessibility.  

Sam explained, “we want to ensure that our digital technologies are accessible for all students and so making accessibility a core success factor for all projects we can ensure this happens.” 

This is just one of the many initiatives The University of Newcastle has adopted to support equity, accessibility, and inclusion in their learning environment. Sam Rykers, Dr Olivia Whalen, and Katie Butler recently received recognition for their work in ADCET’s Accessibility in Action Awards in May this year. Initiatives include the work above, Accessibility Champions, and Disability Confidence training. 

ADCET will invite The University to speak on these initiatives through our webinar series in the second half of 2023.

Photo of ADCET's Accessibility in Award Trophy with trees in the background


Gabrielle O'Brien