Inclusion Getting Back to the Basics

Vicki McGarvey & Geraldine Huzar

Two reports from the Mercian Disability Forum’s first event demonstrate how delegates had a timely moment for reflection and learning, around enhancing accessibility support.


Vicki McGarvey, Staffordshire University

Hosted by the University of Nottingham at their welcoming George Green Library, the event’s focus was squarely on inclusivity and assistive technologies. It was a well-attended event, which drew together participants from across the Mercian Collaboration’s member institutions. Like similar workshops and seminars the Collaboration hosts, this provided a great opportunity for participants to network and share experiences with one another on a specific topic.

Alistair McNaught (Subject specialist (Accessibility and Inclusion, Jisc) presented the keynote address, which focused on the role of libraries in influencing institutional strategies on inclusivity and independent learning. This thought-provoking talk was followed by a range of other presentations from Laura Waller (University of Warwick), Carol Keddie and Jina Ali (De Montfort University) along with a representative from AbilityNet []. Each of these talks concentrated on exploring how the digital environment can better facilitate inclusive learning and consequently enhance the student experience.

Laura’s session focused on the features in Read and Write Gold which students might find valuable, while Carol and Jina’s presentation provided an overview of the Mindgenius mind mapping software. AbilityNet, concluding the morning, described the assistive technology services they provide as an organisation, followed by an introduction to a range of apps for enhancing student wellbeing.

In the afternoon Alistair McNaught led the delegates in a workshop to review aggregators and publisher accessibility statements. This exercise was a follow-on from the successful 2016 Aspire eBook audit. The audit completion deadline is 15th August, and there are hopes to increase the participants and provide a public database of publisher scores.

Overall the day provided a good blend of presentations and participation, with positive informal feedback from participants. Delegates noted how their attendance had increased their knowledge in more familiar tools, while also introducing them to new resources which could be used within their practice.


By Geraldine Huzar, Open University

The University of Nottingham hosted the first Mercian Disability Forum (MDF) staff development event on 26th June 2018. It was a great success with around 20 attendees from across the Collaboration’s universities listening to an inspiring keynote speech from Alistair McNaught, followed by talks on assistive technology. After lunch there was the opportunity to take part in a pilot of ASPIRE (the 2018 ebook audit) before it was officially launched.

Viewed from above: The central role of librarians in fostering an inclusive culture

After a warm welcome and introduction to the day by the Mercian Disability Forum Chair Beck Maguire, Alistair McNaught Jisc Subject specialist (Accessibility and Inclusion) delivered his presentation, designed to ‘stir up the warrior in every librarian’! He pointed out librarians can play a pivotal role in fostering an inclusive culture in their institution. Libraries are at the heart of independent learning, so librarians are in a unique position of having an overview or ‘view from above’ and with that the ability to influence institutional practices. The challenge is to move away, as an institution, from regarding disability as a problem and put in place inclusive practices which benefit all students.

As always, Alistair gave excellent practical examples of how to do this, drawing on his experience of inclusive practices at different universities. He has also set up a shared document where libraries can contribute their own examples of good practice. I found Alistair’s diagram of the potential benefits of different formats particularly useful and will be using it to support students. Alistair’s speech illustrated the incredible support he provides to libraries and also demonstrated how we can collaborate and support each other to improve experiences for disabled students. To access Alistair’s presentation go to the Google doc for collating good practices and then follow the link download the presentation.

Assistive technology

Next came three great presentations on assistive technology. Laura Waller started by introducing TextHelp Read and Write Gold. She gave a really useful overview of version 12 of this software, which is very different from previous versions. Some of the features highlighted include the ability to convert text to audio and convert digital camera and phone images. Interestingly it has an inbuilt translator, which uses Google translate.    

Carol Keddie and Jina Ali then discussed using mind mapping software in library teaching sessions for all students.  The software is networked and so available to everyone, which is a great example of inclusive practice. Learning to use a mind mapping tool enables students to develop digital visual learning strategies and mind mapping is a skill which has clearly benefited both students and staff at De Montfort University. 

De Montfort use three different mind mapping tools and we were given a demonstration of Mind Genius. It enables you to insert links to articles and books, make notes and insert images. It also has project management capabilities, which look particularly useful. For more information see Carol and Jina’s mind mapping presentation.

The third presentation was from Lizzie and Adam at AbilityNet. I was unaware of and impressed by the amount of support AbilityNet provide to both students and staff. I had a look at their website afterwards and found the following statement ‘AbilityNet helps people of any age and with any disability to use technology to achieve their goals at home, at work and in education’. They have been doing this for the past 20 years. AbilityNet provides free advice to students and staff as well as free webinars.

Adam spoke about My Computer, My Way which is an excellent source of support for making computers more accessible and is currently being revamped.  He then took us through some of the incredible number of apps available to provide support in areas such as focus, note taking and organisation, time management and mental health. A handout listed different apps and the areas each covers. There's more information in the AbilityNet presentation.   

After such an informative morning, we then had the opportunity to digest what we’d learnt and network with colleagues over lunch. Apart from the excellent presentations a great benefit of such events is being able to share experiences with colleagues and support each other with suggestions for help. There was also the opportunity to have a tour of George Green Library.

Ebook Audit Workshop

Following lunch was a practical session led by Alistair, where we each took part in auditing the accessibility statements of publishers and aggregators following the guidance provided by the ASPIRE team. Our experiences in doing this enabled some minor tweaks to be made before ASPIRE was officially launched. ASPIRE follows on from the success of the Ebook Audit 2016 and is a crowd-sourcing project.

It was good to input into this very important project and be part of the move to improve the accessibility information provide by publishers and aggregators to students and staff.

Panel Q and A

Towards the end of the day we all had the chance to ask Alistair and the other presenters’ questions.  The questions covered a range of topics such as the accessibility of Adobe Digital Editions and using Bookshare. Alistair mentioned that a French company are developing accessible Digital Rights Management software, so that’s something to look out for in the future. 

It was then time to go home and put what we’d learnt into practice in our own institutions. I want to thank everyone involved for such a useful and inspiring day. I look forward to the next such event.



Aspire GuideDMU Mindmapping | AblityNet Presentation & Handout