Accessibility in e-learning refers to designing your content with the needs of all learners in mind, including those with visual, auditory, physical, or learning disabilities. Let’s envision a typical e-learning scenario: a learner accesses your Learning Management System (LMS), selects the desired e-learning course, watches a video embedded within the course, and interacts with the screens using a mouse to answer a hotspot question at the end.
Accessibility has become an essential requirement that cannot be ignored. And it’s completely justified.
Comprehension is an inherent part of the learning process. Providing equal learning opportunities to all individuals, regardless of their physical abilities, is a basic human right. This principle formed the foundation of the entire movement towards online accessibility.
In simple terms, accessibility promotes inclusivity and universality in everything you create, whether it’s a product or a service. It means that whatever you build should be designed in a way that enables everyone to use it, regardless of how they interact with it.
This principle holds particular significance in the realm of E-learning and online content. Accessibility ensures that organizations deliver online learning with careful consideration so that even employees with special needs can access it without significant barriers.
Therefore, when it comes to online training or web content, E-learning accessibility is a crucial factor to be taken into account.
Disability is diverse
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 61 million adults in the United States experience disability in some capacity. The study further emphasizes that 26%, or 1 in 4 adults, in the country face specific requirements or difficulties arising from issues such as mobility, cognition, hearing, vision, or learning impairments.
As per the CDC’s definition, a disability refers to a condition of the body or mind (impairment) that hinders an individual’s ability to perform certain activities (activity limitation) and engage with their surroundings (participation restrictions).
It is noteworthy that the range of disabilities encompasses a wide array of considerations related to accessibility. These considerations can be broadly classified as:
- People with permanent disabilities
- Disabilities due to age
- Situational disabilities
People with permanent, temporary, and situational disabilities benefit from accessibility. Your content reaches a wide audience on a variety of devices like desktop, mobile. That’s why it is important to incorporate accessibility into your social media videos.
Figure 1: Types of Disabilities
Sometimes disability is temporary
People’s interactions with the world around them are impacted even by short-term injuries and illnesses. Brief visual impairment can be caused by looking into bright light. Speaking becomes difficult when experiencing a cough due to sickness. Wearing a cast can significantly restrict a person’s ability to lift everyday objects.
Sometimes disability is situational
People’s abilities can undergo significant changes as they navigate through different environments. In a loud crowd, their hearing may be impaired. In a car, their vision may be compromised. New parents often find themselves performing tasks with one hand throughout the day. The possibilities, safety, and appropriateness of actions are continually evolving.
By being aware of the spectrum that spans from permanent to situational disabilities, we can reconsider how our designs can accommodate a broader range of individuals. In the United States alone, approximately 26,000 people annually experience upper extremity loss. However, when we consider individuals with temporary and situational disabilities, the number exceeds 20 million.
The Approach to Ensuring E-learning Accessibility
Ensuring accessibility in online learning requires fulfilling two fundamental requirements:
- Acquaintance with the accessibility standards established under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), including versions 2.0 and 2.1 of WCAG.
- Staying up to date with evolving technology.
These standards and technological advancements collectively influence the way individuals with disabilities access E-learning content. Thus, incorporating accessibility support aligned with the WCAG 2.0/2.1 standard is crucial for E-learning platforms.
Guidelines and laws for accessible E-learning
Prior to embarking on the creation of accessible e-learning content, it is essential to consider several best practices and guidelines. Accessibility is safeguarded by legal regulations, and there are explicit guidelines available for all creators of e-learning content to guarantee accessibility for learners with disabilities. Adhering to these guidelines will not only promote compliance with Section 508 but also ensure your organization meets the required standards.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in places of public accommodation, including transportation, jobs, and schools.
The ADA also requires businesses to make online content accessible to the blind, deaf, and to those requiring assistive devices to navigate a website.
WCAG 2.0 Principles and Guidelines
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) are a set of international standards of accessibility designed by the W3C. These standards are based on 4 core principles for web accessibility that state that all digital content must be:
Perceivable: Users must be able to identify content and interface elements with at least one of their senses.
Operable: Users must be able to use all controls, buttons, navigation options, and other interactive elements on a digital interface.
Understandable: Users must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of a digital interface.
Robust: The digital content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
Figure 2: WCAG POUR Principles
In December 2000, the Section 508 Standards for Electronic and Information Technology were introduced as an amendment to the United States Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This section mandates that electronic and information technology used by Federal agencies must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. It encompasses all forms of electronic content, including E-learning.
The EU Web Accessibility Directive
In September 2018, the EU Web Accessibility Directive mandated that all public websites and apps in Europe adhere to the standards outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), these guidelines aim to enhance accessibility for individuals with disabilities when accessing web content.
Considerations for ensuring E-learning Accessibility in Business
From a business standpoint, there are three key factors that motivate organizations to prioritize the accessibility of their created content:
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
It is crucial to ensure equal opportunities for all employees within the organization to access the content. Emphasizing accessibility aligns with the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Enhanced Usability and Experience
Accessibility also plays a vital role in improving the overall usability and user experience of the product. Implementing a universal design that caters to a broader range of users contributes to a more user-friendly experience. Ensuring access for everyone, regardless of disabilities, is an essential aspect of this approach.
Compliance with Regulations
Many governments worldwide are introducing accessibility standards and legislation. Therefore, compliance with accessibility requirements becomes a significant mandate. Organizations need to assess whether they adhere to local regulations and fulfill their clients’ compliance needs.
Organizations should consider accessibility in E-learning from a diversity and inclusion standpoint, as well as to enhance usability and comply with relevant regulations.
Enabling Universal Access in E-learning
Ensuring comprehensive functionality, perceptibility, comprehension, and intuitive navigation requires meticulous planning, thoughtful design considerations, a thorough understanding of accessibility principles, and practical implementation experience.
Making E-learning accessible to all individuals, particularly those with special needs, is not just crucial but also legally mandatory. This obligatory endeavor contributes to the creation of exceptional learning experiences that are inclusive, effective, effortless, and efficient.
Simple Tips to achieve E-learning Accessibility
At this point, you might have come to understand the significance of guaranteeing that your E-learning materials adhere to crucial compliance standards such as WCAG, ADA, and Section 508. If your organization is committed to providing an inclusive learning experience for your learners, prioritizing E-learning accessibility is essential.
To ensure compliance and accessibility for all learners, especially those with disabilities, here are some practical tips and best practices:
Select an accessible E-learning design
Choose templates that prioritize accessibility, particularly for high-volume content production. Aim for designs that minimize reliance on mouse usage. Evaluate the accessibility of your design using tools like WAVE and Color Oracle.
Enhance readability and content structure
Improve user experience by making your content more readable and easier to consume. Utilize header tags in custom HTML5 development, ensuring a logical progression from one heading level to the next.
Organize tab order visually, add alt text to images, and avoid using the asterisk convention to enhance the learning experience.
Develop a reliable link strategy
Use descriptive link text that clearly conveys the purpose or destination of the link. Even when taken out of context, the link text should provide meaningful information.
A descriptive and non-identical link text improves accessibility for screen reader users, enabling easier navigation between links when accessing your content.
Enhance content interpretability
To improve interpretability, provide visual cues (e.g., a PDF icon), underline links, and enable menu links to highlight during mouse-over events. Optimize content visibility by intelligently selecting colors and offering high contrast.
Create content compatible with screen readers
In accordance with accessibility guidelines, ensure your E-learning program accommodates learners who rely on screen readers, especially those with visual impairments. Design your program and content layout to be keyboard-friendly. Pay attention to how screen readers handle forms, providing proper labels and descriptive tags.
Verify cross-browser compatibility
Ensure your E-learning content functions consistently across different web browsers. Validate your HTML code using tools like W3C to identify errors such as duplicate “id” attributes and missing alt text that can hinder accessibility. Similarly, use the W3C CSS Validator to check your Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) for any issues.
Enable seamless interaction with audio and video content
When designing accessible E-learning programs, it’s important to consider diverse disabilities among your audience. Some learners may have hearing difficulties or visual impairments.
To facilitate easy interaction, ensure that learners can access your audio and video E-learning resources. Provide transcriptions for audio content and closed captions or subtitles for videos. Additionally, consider using a separate transcript field to include subtitles for multimedia content.
Unraveling the Design Aspect of Accessible Online Courses
The introduction of digital content and E-learning courses has transformed the landscape of learning and development into a virtual realm. However, we now face an indispensable requirement to ensure E-learning accessibility and cater to all types of learners.
As mentioned earlier, millions of individuals experience various forms of disabilities, which can be permanent, temporary, or situational. Unfortunately, only a small fraction of people with disabilities have access to assistive technology.
To bridge this gap and ensure information availability for everyone, it is imperative to design content in accordance with E-learning accessibility standards. It is essential to emphasize that facilitating ease of access and promoting accessibility in online learning is no longer a choice but a necessity to foster an inclusive environment.
Assistive technology refers to a wide range of tools, devices, and software designed to empower individuals with disabilities, enabling them to overcome barriers and participate fully in various activities. These technologies can include screen readers, alternative keyboards, and more. Individuals can enhance their communication, access information, navigate digital platforms by leveraging assistive technology.
Assistive technology encompasses a range of solutions aimed at fostering inclusivity and active engagement, particularly for individuals with disabilities, the elderly, and those affected by chronic illnesses. Its core objective is to enhance or preserve an individual’s abilities and autonomy, enabling them to function independently and maintain a fulfilling lifestyle.
Furthermore, assistive technology strives to facilitate a self-sufficient and autonomous existence, particularly for individuals with disabilities. However, the World Health Organization highlights that only 1 in 10 people who require assistive technology actually have access to it. Hence, incorporating accessible design when developing digital content is crucial to ensure its widespread accessibility and usefulness for all individuals.
The Importance of Accessibility in E-Learning Courses
Accessibility in online learning is essential for all individuals, regardless of their specific disabilities. It revolves around empowering users with disabilities to comprehend, perceive, interact with, and navigate information just like anyone else. This ensures equal opportunities for learning and contribution without any hindrances.
To provide an inclusive learning experience for all, it is crucial to prioritize accessible design when developing online E-learning content.
Recommended Guidelines for Accessible E-learning
Usability lies at the heart of effective learning materials. To engage and benefit a wide range of learners, including those with disabilities, it is vital to ensure that course content is accessible.
Accessible E-learning entails designing courses in a manner that caters to learners with disabilities while remaining unobtrusive to those without disabilities. The goal is to create an inclusive learning environment that seamlessly accommodates diverse learner needs.
Understand the types of challenges learners may face
Disabilities such as auditory, visual, mobility, neurological, and cognitive impairments encompass a broad spectrum and manifest in different degrees. It is crucial to acquaint yourself with the various types of disabilities and best practices for design prior to commencing your work.
Design with the end-user in mind
When embarking on the design of your E-learning courses, it is essential to begin by comprehending the intended audience. While this may appear to be common sense, it is surprising how many companies diligently outline course objectives but overlook the end user and their accessibility requirements. Therefore, it is crucial to prioritize the needs of the users when considering access during the design process.
Check your language
To ensure the true accessibility of E-learning programs, it is advisable to refrain from using idioms, jargon, acronyms, or any other uncommon terms. Instead, strive to write content using simple, clear and precise language, maintaining an 8th grade reading level. Make sure your e-learning content flows in a cohesive way.
Ensure the text content is perceivable to all users
Make sure all text is visible and accurately narrated on the screen, or provide a transcript for those who prefer reading. Use colors, contrast, text size, and fonts that are easy to see and distinguish. Choose simple fonts like Arial or Helvetica on a background with medium to high contrast. Don’t rely on font styles like bold or italics to convey meaning, as screen readers may not detect them. Avoid using overly contrasting fonts and backgrounds that can cause visual fatigue. Include enough white space on each screen for visual relief.
Ensure images, audio and video are accessible
For visually impaired users, utilize headings for text organization and provide clear alt text descriptions for images, connecting them to the relevant content. Decorative images can be exempt from alt text if they don’t impact the understanding of the material. Include descriptive alt text for charts and graphs to provide context to visually impaired learners.
For audio and video components, incorporate closed captioning and provide audio descriptions or descriptive text. Audio descriptions enhance videos by describing scenes and actor expressions. Verify that background audio levels do not hinder the perception of important audio content.
Make navigation easier
Choose straightforward and uncomplicated navigation and menu elements throughout your E-learning courses to cater to all users effectively. For instance, phrases like “Click here” can be detrimental to navigational accessibility, whereas using direct instructions like “Click ‘Next'” is more preferable.
Strive for predictability, avoiding unexpected changes or concealed content. Additionally, minimize the use of branching scenarios and prioritize linear navigation whenever feasible.
Avoid interactive elements
Rethink about using interactive elements that may be challenging to users with visual impairments. Avoid drag-and-drop or matching activities, on-screen tabs, click-to-reveal buttons, etc.
Provide assistance for accessible E-learning courses
Ensure that your accessible E-learning courses provide ample support options. Whenever feasible, offer learners multiple means of contacting for assistance, such as live chat, phone, and email. By doing so, you provide all employees with the opportunity to seek help in a manner that suits their preferences and needs.
Accessibility Guidelines for Live E-learning Courses
Live online learning courses offer a captivating approach to knowledge dissemination, resembling in-person classroom training without the need for travel. However, the question arises: can these learning sessions be made accessible to all?
Indeed, there are notable distinctions between pre-recorded and live sessions. The following considerations can prove valuable in ensuring the accessibility of live sessions:
Write accessible e-learning course content
- Keep your language simple by avoiding industry jargon or complicated vocabulary.
- Make sure your e-learning content flows in a cohesive way.
- Provide visual alternatives to text content to accommodate for different learning needs.
By integrating such elements, learners with disabilities can engage with the course and perform tasks on par with their peers. Here are some valuable tips to enhance design usability:
- Make sure all information presented with color is also available without color.
- Provide captions or transcripts for multimedia content such as video and audio.
Design accessible e-learning content
- When hyperlinking text, avoid “click here” and, instead, hyperlink more descriptive text.
- Provide alt text to describe all images, diagrams, and graphs.
- Avoid flickering visual content that may put learners at risk of seizures.
- Check color contrasts to ensure all your learners can clearly see your content.
Develop accessible e-learning courses
- Use a font size that is large enough for learners with poorer vision to see.
- Avoid e-learning activities with time restrictions and make sure all multimedia elements can be paused so learners can go at their own pace.
- Ensure your course navigation is clear and easy to access.
- Avoid drop-down menus as screen readers may interpret them as one object.
- Utilize a responsive course design so your e-learning courses can be accessed on mobile devices.
- Use HTML tags to organize your content.
Accessible E-learning Design for Usability
When it comes to usability in accessible E-learning design, a good design alone is not sufficient. To create an exceptional accessible course, it is crucial to incorporate elements that not only ensure accessibility but also provide additional benefits for learners with disabilities. By doing so, learners with disabilities can fully participate in the course and perform tasks on an equal footing with their peers. Here are some valuable tips to enhance design usability:
- Avoid complex interactions wherever possible.
- Use large fonts to accommodate learners with a poor vision.
- Use ALT tags to describe every image and diagram (you can skip decorative images).
- When using audio or video content, make sure to provide captions or transcription.
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