Far from just checking email and connecting via social media, the internet today is a crucial part of our lives in both work and leisure, but for some learners, a variety of disabilities prevent them from fully accessing resources related to the internet (including resources required by their jobs). If you think your employees aren’t facing challenges, think again. An estimated 10% of the population is diagnosed with dyslexia (with many more undiagnosed), and an additional 12% of U.S. adults are disabled in another way. Chances are also good that you have employees who may have hidden disabilities that need accommodation. This is how to create accessible eLearning programs for those employees.
How to create accessible eLearning programs
In the early years of the 21st century, few people understood how important and widespread the internet might become, however this is changing—and quickly. In December of 2000, the Section 508 Standards for Electronic and Information Technology were formally laid out as an amendment to the United States Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In September of 2018, the EU Web Accessibility Directive required all public websites and apps in Europe to meet the standards of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
Both of these standards look to the future with the goal of technology access for all. These forward-thinking standards make it law to accommodate everyone online.
You would not deny a wheelchair-bound employee ramp access, and the same is true for designing accessible eLearning. Accessibility means giving all employees the appropriate tools needed to do their job and participate in all professional development activities. Creating accessible eLearning programs for all of your employees is crucial.
Here are 12 tips for designing and implementing accessible eLearning courses, starting with five whole-program considerations and moving towards more practical, specific design tips.
1. Understand 508 compliance
eLearning that does not meet the basic accessibility guide standards is not only discriminatory; it also makes no sense. Why design an eLearning course that your employees cannot use?
Section 508 standards cover three crucial areas:
- Technical standards
- Functional performance criteria
- Information, documentation, and support
Familiarize yourself with these standards before you start to ensure you have the tools to meet everyone’s needs.
2. Know your Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are international standards of accessibility designed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). This group consists of not only W3C staff but also members of the public working together to address common barriers to access for people with disabilities.
The three levels of WCAG – A, AA, and AAA – denote the level of accessibility, with A being the very minimum level and AAA being accessible to all (most companies aim for AA, or higher in larger companies).
In 2018, the EU Web Accessibility Directive required public-facing websites and apps to adopt these standards. Any websites created after 2018 must meet accessibility standards by September 2019, while those created before must comply by September 2020. Although these standards are not legally required in the U.S. yet, consider these WCAG guidelines as technology best practices that make your eLearning accessible anywhere in the world. This is especially important for global organizations that train employees in European countries.
3. Understand the types of challenges learners might face
Auditory, visual, mobility, neurological, and cognitive disabilities exist across a wide spectrum and in varying degrees. Familiarize yourself with the types of disabilities and best practices for design before you begin.
4. Design with the end in mind
Start the design of your eLearning courses with an understanding of who will be using them. This may seem like common sense, but you might be surprised by how many companies complete due diligence when it comes to figuring out course objectives, only to ignore the end user and their needs for access.
A high-quality training needs analysis considers both course objectives and who is going to be meeting them, not only for current learners but also for those to come.
5. Imagine yourself as the learner
This can be tricky as you begin your accessible eLearning design, but imagine what your learner might see as you begin to design. Will they know how to navigate the course, or is it confusing? Does your course work well with screen readers and keyboard tools, or does it require a mouse? Think of how frustrating poor design could become in the future and make adjustments.
6. Think about font
Font color, size, and type all make a different when thinking about accessible eLearning.
Generally, simple fonts like Arial and Helvetica work best on a medium- to high-contrast background. Avoid using font characteristics (e.g., bold and italics) to create meaning, as many screen readers will not pick up on this.
Also avoid overusing ultra high-contrast fonts and backgrounds, as this can prove tiring (for all learners!) over time. Consider offering more white space on each screen to provide a rest for the eyes.
7. Avoid drag-and-drop prompts and activities
Drag-and-drop activities require agility with a mouse, and those with mobility impairments may struggle.
If drag-and-drop is a crucial part of your design, add easy keyboard shortcuts for those who need them.
8. Use specific navigational words
“Click here” is a black hole when it comes to navigational accessibility, while, “click ‘Next’” is much more straightforward. In fact, using simple, direct language is best for all aspects of your eLearning courses and for all users.
9. Use appropriate labels, headings, alt text, and captions for images and video
Images and graphics can be challenging for many different kinds of impairments. For screen readers for the visually impaired, headings for text and alt text for images help properly organize and explain the text and graphics as they relate to each other.
Further, videos with subtitles and captions help those with visual and auditory impairments.
10. Keep an eye out for new technology
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel here – new technology for designing accessible eLearning is popping up every day.
11. Provide access to assistance
Make sure that all of your accessible eLearning courses come with help. When possible, give learners multiple methods of contact to ask for help, including live chat, phone, and email. This offers all employees a way to get assistance that works best for them.
12. Check your accessibility
When your eLearning course is about to launch, take the time (and spend the money) to make sure it is truly accessible.
Choose accessibility testing standards from the WCAG (at a minimum, AA) and run through all aspects of your course to see if it meets that standard. If you find it difficult to figure out just how accessible it is, ask for volunteers to beta test your course. You will get good information on what changes to make before you go live. Another option for some types of disability is to request a free scan of your site to see how it measures up.
Accessible eLearning is not just the law. It benefits everyone with its intentional, thoughtful design that highlights the most important information and presents it in a clear, informative way.
For help with designing accessible eLearning, you need a company that has proven AA or AAA level success. EdgePoint Learning understands the importance of creating accessible eLearning courses and can help with everything from minor changes to full-service course development. Get in touch today to get started.