New Business Disability Forum research has found that many of the UK’s top universities may be preventing students who cannot hear or speak from applying for courses by providing a ‘telephone only’ approach to communication.
The research, ‘Different communicators need not apply: Why the pre-admissions experience matters for non-hearing and non-verbal learners applying to university’ reviewed the admissions and contact information on the websites of 100 universities featured in The Guardian’s Best UK Universities 2022 rankings, as well as 58 clearing sites.
Out of 100 university websites and 58 clearing sites, the research found: 40% only give a telephone number for prospective students to contact them on; 48% give an email address in addition to a phone number for prospective students to contact them on; just 2 out of 100 universities offered a British Sign Language (BSL) video interpreting service on their website; and out of 58 clearing sites reviewed, 76% only offer a telephone number.
The research also found a general over-reliance on social media and web contact forms as an alternative to using the telephone, even though these forms of communication remain inaccessible to a wide range of assistive technology users and disabled people.
Business Disability Forum is calling on universities to take the following actions:
Ensure both phone and email (at the very least) contact options are clearly available.
Details of the disability and wellbeing support team and services are close to admissions information on the website, where prospective students can clearly find it.
Information about the accessibility of the campus and the support that is available to adapt course delivery are readily available (and that this information is available in a student’s preferred format).
Each team who might receive these requests from prospective students is equipped to know (a) how to respond, and (b) how to arrange the information to be provided in a different format if needed.
In addition, Business Disability Forum is providing the following advice to help universities to review their wider communication processes and to identify any barriers that may be preventing people from applying to study at their institution:
Recognise that not everyone communicates in the same way.
An institution’s approach to inclusive communications should be consistent across the whole university. A common complaint from disabled people is that organisations offer an inconsistent approach to accessibility and adjustments depending on what area of the organisation they are in contact or working with at the time.
Map the end-to-end ‘journey’ that a prospective student goes through when applying to university to inform their communications.
Develop an inclusive comms ‘checklist’ to equip all staff to embed inclusive communication options and accessibility practices across the whole institution.
If web contact forms are used, then get them accessibility tested and user tested.
Recognise that BSL is the first language for some people who are Deaf and provide BSL video interpretation on their website.