Deakin’s Accessibility Champions
Deakin’s Accessibility Champions are a team of academic and professional staff with accessibility expertise who are mentoring, training and modelling best practice inclusivity standards across the University.
We spoke to Accessibility Champions Darren Britten, Assistive Technology and Accessibility Officer (Casual); Rene Hahn, Senior Educational Designer with the CloudFirst project; Ambili Sasidharan, Project Lead in Digital Learning; Emily Partington, Senior Administrative Officer and project lead Danni Mccarthy to learn more about how they’re helping to raise the level of inclusivity at Deakin.
What was the strategy behind the creation of the Accessibility Champions?
Danni: The Accessibility Champions project has Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) funding to implement strategies that improve access to undergraduate courses for people from regional and remote Australia, low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds, and Indigenous persons. We’re building a knowledge sharing community embedded in faculties and areas across the University to connect staff with an interest in accessibility, create an inclusive culture and develop leadership capability in digital inclusion and accessibility.
What has been your proudest moment working with Deakin’s Accessibility Champions?
Darren: Almost every week there has been something that has been said or done by one of the Accessibility Champions that makes me proud to be a part of this amazing group. The dedication and enthusiasm of fellow champions in inspiring and molding accessible practices was reflected in an ADCET Accessibility in Action Award. To paraphrase Ismail Zengin, Learning Environments Developer, Deakin Learning Futures, who accepted the award on behalf of everyone, ‘this is something we are all passionate about and have learnt so much from being a part of… we are now all a part of the answer.’
What was the biggest lesson you learned during the capability building phase of becoming an Accessibility Champion?
Rene: The biggest lesson I learned during the capability building phase of becoming an Accessibility Champion was that if you look at the length and breadth of accessibility, it seems an insurmountable thing. It can be intimidating and seem unachievable. However, as soon as you start to take a few steps, making some simple changes and recognising that you can make sustainable changes to your practice, it becomes a positive experience.
Collaboration is a huge part of the Accessibility Champions way of working. Can you tell us a bit about who you worked with and how you went about it?
Ambili: As a part of Accessibility Champions, I was fortunate to work with Academic and technical staffs from all four faculties, CloudFirst team, the Deakin Library and other areas of Deakin Learning Futures. It was an amazing experience to build new networks and learn from one another. We had regular weekly morning stand ups where we would share what we achieved, what we were planning to accomplish and what new, interesting things we had come across which would enable accessibility within teaching and learning. We also hosted regular catch-up sessions for specific projects where we shared our project status and collected project feedback.
What advice do you have for Deakin staff who want to raise their awareness of accessibility and hone their skills?
Emily: The most important aspect of accessibility is awareness; being aware of the impact it can have for all learners is a great place to start the journey. Start small, begin with the basics. What you consider an insignificant change, a heading or changing a link description, might make all the difference for someone. It’s important to know that accessibility can be quite complex, but no one is expecting you to get right from the start.
Deakin has so many great resources to get you started. Reach out if you want to learn more, there is a passionate community ready to help.
What are your hopes for the future of the Accessibility Champions Project?
Danni: Building staff capabilities through digital accessibility is about building our inclusivity house on solid foundations – to date the Accessibility Champions Project has created a welcome into the space with the launch of the Everyday Accessibility Basics. We seek to support the development of inclusive practices through the design of practical resources to develop capabilities in more complex accessibility techniques. Ultimately, I’d love to see the champions project continue to grow as a space to support the most advanced, creative, innovative, digitally accessible prototypes – where accessibility can be thought about as aspirational as well as essential.