Accessibility Tools

A hybrid Conference on Inclusive Policies and Practices in Higher Education was organized by the InclusiveHE project’s lead partner Åbo Akademi University in Finland on November 16, 2022. 


The main aim of this event was to raise awareness of inclusive higher education and to showcase the outcomes of the InclusiveHE project, including the Inclusive Higher Education Toolkit, the Training Course, and the Inclusive Higher Education MOOC. The conference brought together policymakers, academics, administrators, learning designers, and students from Finland and from across Europe. 


There were also two talks related to the topic. Dr. Emmanuel Acquah, Associated Professor in Education at Åbo Akademi University and manager of the InclusiveHe project, talked about good policies and practices for promoting inclusive higher education and shared personal stories related to cultural and linguistic diversity in higher education. Dr. Ben Withburn, who is Associate Professor of Education at the University of Southampton, gave a keynote speech on “Challenging inherency in higher education” with a focus on inclusion of students with disabilities. 


So, what were the key takeaways from this conference?



  • Inclusivity concerns all


Associate Professor and manager of the InclusiveHE project Emmanuel Acquah spoke about inclusive policies and practices in higher education derived from a systematic review of 44 scientific, peer-reviewed articles from 2001-2021. What was evident from this research was that the research on the matter has increased quite substantially during the years. The majority of research tends to focus on neuro- and physically diverse students in higher education. Only a few articles focused on the inclusion of culturally and linguistically diverse students and even less focused on students from a low socioeconomic background and those belonging to a sexual or gender minority. It is evident that there is a research gap regarding the inclusion of all students in higher education. More research Is needed regarding the inclusion of all students in higher education, regardless of their ethnic heritage, gender, sexual orientation, religious orientation, neuro- and physical diversity. Emmanuel also presented key findings regarding good policies and practices for inclusion in higher education, which may be found in the project outcomes, specifically the Inclusive Higher Education Framework, which you can find here: 


When asked by attendees about what to do when you don’t know the best practices for being inclusive in your teaching, or when you get it wrong, Emmanuel made the point about being empathic, stepping into the other person’s shoes, and to make sure that all the students feel good. As one participant pointed out, inclusivity concerns all, not just the academic staff: “To be inclusive you do not need to be academic staff, unfortunately sometimes the peers are neglectful,.. once you are human being there will be numerous situation where you need to be inclusive.” (Conference participant)



  • Coherence instead of inherence


In his keynote speech, Dr. Ben Withburn talked about the issues with inherent requirements in higher education and how the replacement of inherence with coherence could have the potential to promote relational leadership among higher education providers. Inherent requirements (IR) are minimum standards for registration to practice, i.e. what abilities are essential for a student to participate in and complete a course (for instance, in nursing and education). The intent of IRs has been to include students with disabilities in courses. However, as the research presented by Dr. Withburn shows there are students who don’t want to disclose issues they might face due to potential stigma and negative consequences related to, for instance, being accepted to a course or having the opportunity to complete it. He suggests that “critical disability studies and critical psychology can contribute to educational inclusion by foregrounding relationships, interconnectedness, and strengths, and accepting that neither disability nor inclusion are fixed precepts, but are constantly in flux, contingent and enacted” (Corcoran, Withburn, & McCandless, 2022), hence moving towards coherency. 



  • Tools and policy development for promoting inclusion are needed


General conclusions drawn from the conference were that the tools developed within the frames of the project were useful and that these kinds of tools are needed. The development of inclusive policies is required in order to promote inclusion of all students in higher education. In the workshop on the Inclusive Higher Education Toolkit, the participants tested the interactive Framework and discussed the implementation of the tools in general. It was concluded that it would be ideal if someone with the appropriate expertise (for instance from the project) would deliver training courses and lead the work with the Toolkit for developing inclusive policies and practices at different higher education institutions in the country. They were concerned that the lack of time and resources would prevent them to implement the tools in full scale themselves.


A quote from a participant’s response to the question about what they liked most about the event was: The hands-on practical tools that were presented and we got to try



  • Continuous professional development is key


In the workshop on the Inclusive Higher Education Massive Open Online Course, the participants had the opportunity to try it. The course consists of six modules covering topics such as the design and development of inclusive programmes, social justice and conflict resolution, technology for inclusion, and topics related to the inclusion of students with diverse backgrounds. Reflections made by the participants of this workshop was that there is a substantial need for professional development regarding inclusive practices in higher education and that this kind of self-study course is ideal for  HE staff members in order for them to actually fit it into their schedules. They also liked the fact that content covered is broad, but that it still was delivered in a focused, informative, and easily accessible way. They also concluded that these modules aren’t only useful for higher education staff, but also as part of teacher education, and by professionals working in other educational levels. There also seem to be a need for opportunities to meet, discuss, and reflect on the matters of inclusion among colleagues – to see that others are dealing with the same issues and to get advice and come up with solutions together.


Some quotes about this from the participants’ feedback:


“Each HEI should make their staff go through the material”


“Understand more now, and in the discussion noticed that others are dealing with similar 'issues'”