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The Inclusion-First Approach

Durham University: Adopting Accessibility

Famous for its UNESCO World Heritage Cathedral and historic setting on the banks of the River Wear, Durham University is England’s third oldest University and today one of the world’s top 100 Higher Education institutions. As a leader in Higher Education in England for almost 200 years, Durham is today a global institution home to over 18,000 students and 4,000 faculty from over 150 countries around the world.

Like many Universities, Durham was paying for over 20,000 Microsoft 365 licenses every year for staff and students, with many not being used to their full potential. Not fully appreciating the capabilities of the Microsoft 365 suite, academic departments and professional support services were paying for software that did the same thing as tools within the M365 suite.

This was particularly true of tools to help make content accessible for hearing or visually impaired staff and students, as well as those for whom English was not their first language.

Keen to reduce unnecessary spending, recently appointed Chief Information Officer, John Hemingway, invited Microsoft Adoption Partner, Changing Social, to work with him and the IT team to help drive some benefits from the M365 suite. This would be the start of an 18-month adoption programme encompassing the entire University, with every Department and College, as well as all 18,000 students, taking part.

One of the first elements they looked at was what could be done to further improve accessibility and digital inclusion for Durham’s stakeholders.

What was the problem?

Durham was well set up to support staff and students who had a disability. 

When Changing Social’s accessibility expert, Gregg Bainbridge, started working with the University, he knew they were already doing a lot of things well to support their users to be digitally included. He reflected, “Durham was doing a good job but we wanted to help them to do so much more.

“Being a passionate partner of Microsoft’s Build 2030 campaign, we strive to implement the UN Sustainability goals into everything we do. For Durham University, this meant not only supporting goal 4 of helping them deliver quality education, but also realising goal 8 of providing decent work and economic growth all while living goal 10 of reducing inequalities.”

Fundamentally, following the UN’s Sustainability Goals, we wanted to help Durham create an environment where ‘everyone has the right to learn, and all learning and aspects of the learning journey are accessible and digitally inclusive to all learners and instructors’.”

The sentiment at Durham University was similar as the adoption programme Project Manager, Debbie Robson highlighted; “We were keen from the outset to include digital accessibility as a key theme throughout our adoption programme.

“Irrespective of the project use case, area of focus or application we were talking about, we wanted to make sure our users knew how to make their content accessible, and had the tools to do this easily. We didn’t want accessibility to be an afterthought or bolt-on.”

Building accessibility was a key part of what they did, not an afterthought

Director of Student Support and Wellbeing, Sam Dale

The Microsoft 365 adoption team made up of specialists from Durham University’s IT team and adoption and change management consultants from Changing Social set about working out how to best approach this.

They first started by imagining what accessibility and digital inclusion may look like at DU. These ideation sessions looked at the art of the possible, and helped the team refine the areas they wanted to focus on.

Together they then built accessibility into the entire adoption programme, so it was a key part of what they did and was integral – not an afterthought. This included things like:

Ensuring all Teams meetings were recorded and then the link in Stream distributed so people could watch recordings afterwards and read subtitles if necessary

Showcasing the language features within PowerPoint to demonstrate how live transcriptions could be used to encourage non-English speakers to check their understanding and be active participants

Live demonstrating the Immersive Reader functionality across Office 365 including Word, to show how text can be displayed and read to support the student’s preferred learning style.

These are just some of the features and tips that were shared with Departments, Colleges and Students to normalise accessibility. But for some teams, they benefited from more in-depth use cases.

Graduation Achievement Student School College

Would you like to know more?

If you’re interested in discussing how Changing Social can help your organisation adopt new ways of working we’d love to hear from you!