New research published by the Business Disability Forum has found that that many of the UK’s top universities may be preventing students who cannot hear or speak from applying for courses by providing a ‘telephone only’ approach to communication.

The research, Different communicators need not apply: Why the pre-admissions experience matters for non-hearing and non-verbal learners applying to university, reviewed the admissions and contact information on the websites of 100 universities featured in the The Guardian’s Best UK Universities 2022 rankings, as well as 58 clearing sites.

Out of 100 university websites and 58 clearing sites reviewed the research found that 40 per cent of universities only give a telephone number for prospective students to contact them on.

Only 48 per cent of universities were found to give an email address in addition to a phone number for prospective students to contact them on, while just two out of 100 universities offered a British Sign Language (BSL) video interpreting service on their website.

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Out of 58 clearing sites reviewed, 76 per cent only offer a telephone number.

The research also revealed a general over-reliance on social media and web contact forms as an alternative to using the telephone, even though these forms of communication remain inaccessible to a wide range of assistive technology users and disabled people.

The provision of email addresses was found to be generally imbalanced, with too many moving images and pop-up boxes on contact information pages.

In some cases it was found that multiple scroll actions were needed to find contact details, which can be frustrating for people who do not have steady hand or arm movements or who have difficulties with dexterity.

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of the Business Disability Forum, said: “Communicating in an inclusive way is not just about doing the right thing, but about attracting the widest pool of talent.

“Of course, the application process is just one part of the student journey. Universities must also review their wider communication processes to ensure parity of experience for all disabled and non-disabled students throughout and beyond their time at university.”

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