Addressing disparities and the shadow pandemic

As universities continue to be affected by the Covid-19 situation, colleagues are asked to redesign the curriculum for online and blended learning, as well as continue other academic duties remotely. Much of the conversation focuses on this stressful experience for staff, the time pressure to transform our curriculum, and how these changes dramatically impact the student experience. In this frayed situation, we can already see how the pandemic is causing greater societal disparities, such as a gender divide in academic publication rates (Fazackery 2020; Flaherty 2020), and disparities for BAME* staff and students (Singh 2020). 

*Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicities 

The Shadow Pandemic 

A recent article from Inside Higher Ed describes a ‘Shadow Pandemic’, how Covid-19 has exacerbated xenophobia, racism and discrimination (Venkat Mani 2020). While the piece concerns the particular social context in the USA, it is worth reading as it pushes us to be active in how we respond to this Shadow Pandemic, rather than complacently relying on top level leadership.  

To address this issue, here are some inclusive teaching principles to consider in your practice drawn from an AdvanceHE presentation by Jess Moody

  • No one should be left behind – identify our most vulnerable groups 
  • Do no more harm – don’t compound existing structural inequalities in the crisis 
  • Be transparent and flexible 
  • Make sure you understand the impact of your decisions 

Further resources are listed below. 

BAME support 

When reworking your curriculum, you can support BAME inclusion and success by following guidance available on the grp-BME Success Sharepoint site. The site includes a helpful inclusion guide that features practical examples to support BAME students in all aspects of their student experience. Recommended steps that staff can take include: 

  • Read up to date materials regarding under-represented groups in Higher Education 
  • Appreciate BAME Students may have different experiences and needs 
  • Establish ways for students to interact with other students from different backgrounds 
  • Extend beyond European culture or history to include a wider view of the world 

There’s also information on the BAME Success Programme and nominated Success Advocates for each faculty who are available to support you. 

BiLT have also produced a blog post summarising top guidance from AdvancedHE on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). The piece was written by one of the Success Advocates, Samya Sarfaraz, who notes that the eight themes of EDI is a useful framework for all disciplines. It helps us see where our practice is strongest and where more work still needs to be done. 

It’s worth noting that not everyone agrees with the use of the acronym BAME. One of our University of Bristol academics, Dr Foluke Ifejola Adebisi, writes this useful prompt on how we might consider other terminology “The Only Accurate Part of ‘BAME’ is the ‘and’…”. In the writing of this blog, I’ve chosen to include the term BAME as it is the term currently employed throughout our university systems and guidance. When engaging with contemporary issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement, BAME becomes a less appropriate term that can obfuscate appropriate responses to and understandings of lived Black experiences.  

Maintaining integrity through adversary 

In March 2020, the Bristol Medical School became the first in the UK to adopt a new BAME charter to address racial harassment. In May 2020, the University of Bristol achieved Silver and Bronze Athena SWAN awards in recognition of its progress on gender equality. Many of our staff are leaders in equality and diversity, yet this progress is put at risk because of the pressures caused by the pandemic. 

It’s difficult to be asked to consider the complexities of social inequalities when we are under pressure. However, it is important that this time of stress does not further negatively impact the most vulnerable or disenfranchised in our institutions. Before, during and after the pandemic, we should have pride in our ability to ensure equitability for all.  

If you haven’t already, our Digital Design course includes a session on designing inclusively. You can take the course asynchronously in August – sign up here. Staff who would like a refresher on the session are welcome to take the course again.  




Dr Aisling (Ash) Tierney – get in touch to discuss any aspect of our teaching and learning at Bristol:


Neurodiversity and Digital Accessibility

Last week we hosted the third of our Digital Accessibility events, this time with Dafydd Henke-Reed, Senior Accessibility Consultant with AbilityNet. Dafydd has been diagnosed with Autism and Dyslexia and spoke about his personal experiences of Neurodiversity.

Dafydd speaking at the event.

Dafydd was engaging and open about his experiences growing up, going to University and the technology he uses day to day. From the very start he highlighted that Autism is a spectrum and that we were hearing what Neurodiversity means to him.

From Cognitive Brick Walls to being horrified when friendly lecturers asked him to move forward from the back row of a lecture theatre, we heard about the barriers and obstacles he had faced.

What stood out for me…

“Dyslexia could be solved with tools; Autism was about learning how to thrive in a seemingly hostile culture.”

Dafydd had refused support related to Autism at University. Tactics such as large yellow “appropriate allowance when marking” stickers felt like a brand. This is pertinent; many students may not disclose their “disabilities” due to previous experience or because they find allowances intrusive or counterproductive. In fact, with conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder may not consider it a disability in the first case, it’s just the way they are. If we are to be truly inclusive, then we need to design our learning experience to remove barriers and everyone benefits.

“Come over for group study and we’ll get beers and pizza in? Hell no!”

Dafydd spoke about how he found groups and teamwork challenging. He’ll use digital tools like Slack or instant messaging to communicate rather than walking to a colleague’s desk. He also praised electronic tickets (“I won’t lose them”)

He showed us the Speech to Text (STT) and Text to Speech (TTS) systems he uses every day along with the spelling correction functionality.

Do’s and don’ts

The excellent UK Gov “Do’s and Don’ts” guides were given a name check again, this time for Dyslexia and Autism. If you haven’t seen them, check out these lovely visual guide posters. I think they should be printed out in every office!

Designing for users on the autistic spectrum. Do use simple colours; write in plain language; use simple sentences and bullets; make buttons descriptive; build simple and consistent layouts. Don't use bright contrasting colours; use figures of speech and idioms; create a wall of text; make buttons vague and unpredictable; build complex and cluttered layouts. Designing for users with dyslexia. Do use images and diagrams to support text; align text to the left and keep in a consistent layout; consider producing materials in other formats (for example audio or video); keep content short, clear and simple; let users change the contrast between background and text. Don't use large blocks of heavy text; underline words, use italics or write in capitals; force users to remember things from previous pages - give reminders and prompts; reply on accurate spelling - use autocorrect or provide suggestions; put too much information in one place.

Martin Nutbeem