Spotlight on: Accessibility

One way to remove barriers, level the playing field and to enable diversity and inclusiveness at our institutions is through accessibility. In its basic definition (according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/accessibility, accessed 17.07.2018)  ‘accessibility’ not only refers to the ‘ability to reach something (moving through space), but also:

  • that information can be physically used (access to the information); and  
  • that the person can actually use the information (is able to understand it).

In other words, accessibility has to be looked at from different perspectives.

Perspectives on accessibility

It touches on the ability for students and faculty to navigate the buildings they study and work in. This includes students with different disabilities: can a student with a seeing or walking impairment navigate the building on their own? 

On a more abstract level this also refers to inclusion in the broader meaning: our institutions being accessible for students who normally would not enter the building, in other words, who are musically talented, but would not consider studying at a conservatory – e.g. female/male applicants within certain degree programs, people coming from a working class background, people with a migrant background as well as refugees. One central element here is financial: if the institution charges audition or tuition fees, are there exemptions or scholarships for students who cannot afford them?

Making an institution accessible also means to reach out to new areas of employment and to make them accessible to students, as future posts on audience engagement and working in refugee camps will demonstrate.

This also includes implementing universal design policies where “access” to education is treated proactively (rather than reactively) by designing curriculum as well as infrastructures and policies that are accessible and usable by everyone, including people with disabilities, in a sustainable manner rather than on an individual basis.

Accessibility within the conservatory environment

This also refers to the (virtual) navigation of the conservatories. Do students know and understand the internal communication streams/networks? Are they introduced early enough to start their courses without any delays? Are the course documents easily accessible for the students? Are the students given an introduction and overview of the tools needed to study at the institution? Are the learning management systems and the online tools accessible for a seeing impaired student and who is dependent on a screen reader? As stated by David and Fernandez in 2019, “[this includes] ease of navigation without a mouse (many users with vision or mobility impairments may not be able to use a mouse); the presence of alternative text for screen reader users; closed captions for those who cannot hear or have learning disabilities; and appropriate use of color. (Is contrast between text or controls and backgrounds high enough? Are alternatives provided when color is used to impart meaning?)”.

Furthermore, is the digital content only accessible for students with mobile internet devices? Is the language used not only one that the students can understand (in other words, speak), but also a language whose syntax and lexical structure is comprehensible for the students?

Accessibility in the context of GDPR

The enshrining of General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) into EU law in 2018 may incidentally have impaired accessibility in higher music education contexts in some important respects. Intellectual property or copyright issues can produce barriers to access to musical material unless solutions specific to educational contexts are agreed upon, and the bureaucratic imposition of barriers to access by staff to student information, whilst well-meaning and no doubt justified in most contexts, may present challenges to both student care and applicant outreach.

Access for all

Accessibility fundamentally means that the conservatory is open for all students and faculty, and does not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion or disability. That requires that information about the institution and application process is accessible for all potential applicants (accessible language, information also in (minority/other) languages). Ideally these aspects are anchored in publicly accessible policies and guidelines that enshrine the rights of students and faculty.

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This article is a part of the publication titled How are ‘diverse cultures’ integrated in the education of musicians across Europe? Other chapters can be found here.

Works cited

Fernandez, D, S, and M. 2019. Using the USA2 Framework to Make Informed Instructional Technology Decisions. The Teaching Professor. https://www.teachingprofessor.com/topics/online-learning/using-the-usa2-framework-to-make-informed-instructional-technology-decisions/ (accessed 26.06.2019)

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