Digital Accessibility in Learning Survey

Digital accessibility means that people can access information, learn, and do what they need to do in a similar amount of time and effort as others, whether they have a disability or not.

At the beginning of the academic year 2021-2022, the Digital Education Office hired Student Digital Champions, some of which had an interest in accessibility and became our Student Digital Accessibility Champions (SDACs): Elizabeth Hodge, Isabella Coombs, and Georgie Pitts.


The SDACs wanted to find out how accessible students currently perceive their courses to be, what they would suggest for improvement, as well as whether they know where to find support.

What was done

After learning a bit more about digital accessibility, the SDACs created a survey that they sent out to students via course reps, social media, and the Blackboard Home page’s carousel. You can see the more extensive report: Digital Accessibility in Learning Survey Report SDAC (PDF, 574kB).

The survey was completed by 31 students in the 2nd half of TB1: 22 UG and 9 PG, 3-8 from each Faculty. 35% of them had accessibility needs, 23% did not and 39% didn’t know. It is important to take into account that not everyone with accessibility needs is aware of it and even if they suspect they have such needs, getting a diagnosis can be challenging and time consuming.

What is Digital Accessibility and who is it relevant to?

From the question “What comes to mind when you think about accessibility?”, students seemed to have a good grasp of what accessibility means or includes. Some looked at it broadly, and some in terms of specific types of adjustments, e.g. “Subtitles on videos”, “More time for exams”.

Ensuring that services are made equally available to every individual, without discriminating against any group due to their abilities or facilities available to them.

Ensuring that there is a level playing field between able students and those with disabilities. That disabled students are able to achieve and succeed at the same level.

Alternate ways of accessing information and learning resources enabling everyone to learn effectively

Most students (18-22) considered digital accessibility to be relevant to students with specific needs: visual or hearing impairments, physical impairments, specific learning difficulties, neurodivergence, mental health concerns, socioeconomic barriers. The vast majority of students (29) also thought digital accessibility is relevant to any student who accesses learning content.

Finding support

Around half of the students did not know where to look for information and support concerning digital accessibility and a few of those that had ideas for where to look did not seem sure about them. Their answers included Disability Services, the University website, the DEO, IT Help Desk, Blackboard, School admins, tutors, program director or generally online.

Most students were aware that their learning content on Blackboard will often provide alternative formats (whether via Blackboard Ally or their instructors’ efforts to provide options). Only 3 did not know. 35% use them regularly and 32% occasionally and most (69%) find them somewhat-extremely useful.

Most students don’t create content to present to their peers, and of those who do (13), only a few use accessibility checking tools frequently (4).

Courses’ digital accessibility

Students’ views varied on the accessibility of their courses’ components, and it’s difficult to reach specific conclusions from a small sample in a variety of courses. Generally, students seemed to be most satisfied with the accessibility of their Instructions and emails, Blackboard page, Worksheets, Opportunities to ask for support, Asynchronous videos and Slides. They were least satisfied with the accessibility of their Synchronous lectures, Group discussions and seminars and Assigned reading, with their Overall course and Coursework/ Exams sitting in the middle.

Student comments/suggestions

Some students elaborated on why they gave these ratings and/or suggested improvements to ensure digital experiences are accessible to all. Most of their comments/suggestions are quoted or summarised below.

In-person vs Online learning

Students had different views on whether in-person or online learning might be more accessible:

In person teaching is good as it means despite however many technical issues may occur there is still a lecturer at the front that can shout knowledge at you.”

The digital aspects of my course are largely accessible which is good, I think the in-person content is where accessibility work desperately needs to be done as it remains extremely inaccessible for far too many students.

Sometimes it's more difficult for me to engage in content that involves lots of collaboration or having to deal with surrounding noise. I appreciate having assigned reading and essential textbooks being available online as an eBook, as I'm studying from home most of the time this year and can't access the University campus very easily.

I think a huge gap that may disproportionately affect disabled students is online access and potentially online accessibility.

Captions & Transcripts

Students want subtitles for lecture videos (7), synchronous lectures (1), subtitles to be accurate (2), or transcripts if subtitles can’t be available (2). They would also like access to transcription technology for their lectures (2). It’s worth noting that automatic captioning in Re/Play was turned on by default in January 2022 for all content added from TB2 onwards.


  1. Assigned reading, PDFs, and text in general should be legible and readable by screen readers. This means that text should not be in image format and if it comes from a scan, it should be scanned and OCR digitized properly, so the resulting digital text document can be read out by screen readers and allows highlighting and copying.
  2. Less heavy reading not related to course.
  3. Easier access to textbooks (current issues are cost or limited copies in the library).


  1. Similar format (e.g. fonts, background colours) rather than different for each lecturer.
  2. Available in PowerPoint format, not just as a PDF.
  3. Available in addition to the narrated videos.
  4. Provided in advance to lectures, even if they include quiz questions. DEO: You could upload a subset of slides that doesn’t contain the quizzes, or deliver the quizzes separately.

Blackboard page

Ensure Blackboard pages of different lectures, units or faculties are consistent, to make it easier to follow and find specific content. Blackboard templates can help with this.

Access requirements

Ask students about their access requirements prior to the course, figure out what they need on an individual basis and maintain that communication.


  1. Make group discussions/ seminars available on Blackboard, whether as a video/ audio recording or as a document/ Padlet where everyone writes their ideas, so students that miss a seminar don’t miss anything.
  2. More education for tutors about students with ill mental health or neurodivergence, as “picking” on them in seminars can cause distress.

Asynchronous video

  1. Make pre-recorded videos available to download to avoid steaming issues on bad internet connections and enable students to watch them anywhere.
  2. Recording all lectures is helpful.
  3. Ensure recordings appear on time (Re/Play) and direct links to videos are provided as embedded ones don’t always work (e.g. MS Stream).

Asking for support

More opportunities for online meetings or one-on-one with tutors/teaching assistants and ensuring Q&As are answered relatively promptly.


Provide an easy way for students with accessibility needs to request more time to complete coursework, as it takes them longer than their peers.


Offer options for presentations and exams that take into consideration the variety of students’ circumstances, such as anxiety, noisy environments and bad internet connections.

Accessibility tools/ features and awareness

  • Access to accessibility tools/features (e.g. BeeLine for readings outside the selected materials, or text-to-speech).
  • Awareness about what is available to students (e.g. via a Blackboard/MyBristol tab with a list).

Access to technology

Some students mentioned ensuring or making up for lack of access to computers, printers or internet, eg handing out printed worksheets, or giving training on digital platforms, especially to those that haven’t used laptops or internet before.