Providing accessibility in schools is more than just about implementing wheelchair ramps and accessible restrooms; it also means integrating unique education plans that allow disabled children to receive their education correctly.
One reason the Ofsted review alarmed us is that the consequences of the experiences faced by disabled pupils across the UK as a direct result of this crisis will have a lasting effect on them into adulthood. SEND support allows blind and deaf children access to accessible formats and is also key to the funding of sign language interpreters for the latter. It also allows schools to provide specialist support such as teaching assistants for cognitively disabled children, and even influences the layout of the learning environment itself, where classrooms can be tailored to meet the needs of neurodiverse children who need a clear learning environment that separates the reading area from the computer area, and so on.
One of the key requirements of the Department of Education guidance on the Equality Act is for schools to publish their action plan.
Direct Access education audits are an integral part of school action plans, setting out quick wins and longer-term opportunities to improve accessibility
for all children.
School accessibility audits also ensure that every aspect of the school environment, including gyms, dinner halls, and playgrounds are accessible to all, allowing authorities to properly integrate special needs and disabled pupils within day-to-day school activities and the broader curriculum.
As well as being a necessity from a legal perspective, providing access for children is vital for their social environment, as it demonstrates the diversity of life experience from a young age and allows disabled children to grow up in an accepting environment. Doing this also means that their non-disabled peers are less prone to ignorance, growing up with perspectives beyond themselves and their experiences, and becoming more accepting of others.
Accessibility audits are also vital from a safety perspective, allowing schools to create environments that are less hazardous and influencing correct evacuation procedures when dangerous circumstances arise. Our audits for schools include a review of all evacuation plans, equipment, and fire alarms, building a learning environment that is safe as well as inclusive.
Our school auditors (who have experience working within school environments) will also review signage on-site for accessibility, floor surfaces for slip resistance, and even the lighting and colour contrast of classrooms. Paying attention to these finer details helps ensure that children are less likely to experience injury and sensory overload and can meaningfully engage with their learning as a result.
Direct Access Education Consultant Sophie adds “Teaching and support staff will work tirelessly to ensure that the school and classrooms
that they are responsible for are appropriate for all of their students, with the aim to have an inclusive learning environment. However, when there are
extended time frames for students waiting to receive support, perhaps due to a lack of funding or a limited number of staff, a truly detrimental effect can
develop on an individual engaging with their education. This is hugely prevalent within a school setting, where vast amounts of students are expected to engage with their surroundings, despite perhaps not getting the individual and specific support they both need and deserve.
The British Standards, Equality Act, Approved Documents, PAS6463, and much other documentation are referred to during our accessibility audits. With the 2022 release of the PAS6463, more attention is being drawn to how an environment can affect people with cognitive and neurodiverse sensitivities; including areas such as how noise, lighting, colours, and tones, as well as biophilic design, can impact the ways in which an individual interacts with their surroundings. When a teacher is aware of an individual’s needs, changes can be made.”