Jisc TechDis, the leading advisory service on technologies for accessibility and inclusion to support disabled students and staff in the UK, is to close. TechDis is currently hosted by the Higher Education Academy (HEA). In July, the HEA were informed by Jisc that this arrangement will cease on 31 December 2014. As a result, Jisc TechDis will no longer exist as a separate, distinct service providing advice and guidance on technologies to support disabled students and staff.
This news will be of particular concerns to post-16 educators who will be affected by cuts to Disabled Students’ Allowances in 2016. TechDis have supplied an essential reference point for the HE and FE sector on inclusive best practices, accessibility training, resources and capacity building for policy makers, senior management, front line and specialist staff. As TechDis ceases to operate as a distinct service, any loss of capacity or cuts to their expert team, web resources, tools and training programme could have serious repercussions for disabled students and the sector as a whole.
Proposed changes to DSAs mean that many disabled students will no longer receive the same level of financial support for software, equipment and training from central government. At present, a student can receive up to £5,161 for specialist equipment (including assistive technologies such as laptops, digital recorders, screen reading and voice recognition software), and £20,520 for non-medical helpers (such as note-takers, scribes/typists and library support) each year. An additional £1,724 is available for general costs such as travel expenses incurred due to disability. Cuts to these grants place greater emphasis on educators. As educational institutions seek to put in place greater support and new strategies to bridge the gap cuts will leave, expert advice, such as that currently supplied by TechDis will be at a premium.
Last month TechDis made the following statement:
This restructure is part of the Jisc response to the Wilson Review and it affects parts of Janet as well as all regional support centres and advisory services – including Jisc TechDis. Instead of separate services, Jisc are putting in place a centralised operation with a single helpdesk. At this point, it is not known how resources and expertise will transition into the future operations. However, Jisc have stated that throughout this proposed transformation, they are working to minimise disruption and interruption to services and that the Jisc board has insisted that there be no diminution of service to customers.
Currently it is not clear how all this is to be achieved as currently it is the Higher Education Academy who hold both the employment contracts and related intellectual property of the TechDis staff. However, there are a number of distinct TechDis services for which the future is uncertain such as In-Folio, In-Book, the Xertesandpit, Publisher LookUp, the TechDis voices (Jess and Jack), and the TechDis Toolbox. We are also unsure of the future of the TechDis website and resource materials.
Fortunately the Jisc TechDis team have the full support of the HEA senior executive and are working closely with them to ensure that online resources are safeguarded and that the expertise is not lost to the sector.
We understand the need for a more coherent and simpler Jisc. However, the timing is difficult as staff and students in England and Wales grapple with the changes to the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) and the Special Educational Needs and Disability reforms. TechDis will continue to provide advice and champion inclusion and accessibility for the disabled. We will work hard to ensure there is no diminution of services for our customers during the transition.
We will be contacting stakeholders and partners throughout September and October with more specific and relevant information.