Accessibility refers to how accommodating your eLearning content is for people with different needs. While it is traditionally thought of in reference to users with physical or mental conditions, it isn’t just meant for those with disabilities.
Consider other parts of society that are adjusted to be more accommodating for everyone. A good example are the short ramps or curb cuts built into sidewalks, usually in spots where people are likely to need to cross a street.
This change is ideal for people in wheelchairs or those who require walking aids. It makes it safer for them to navigate onto the street. However, it also helps people pushing baby strollers, shopping carts, or those who may have trouble lifting their legs like the elderly.
In this example, a change was made to make the area more accessible to a broader group of people. While it benefits those with a disability, it can also help improve the experience for others.
eLearning accessibility can work much the same way. By making your content more accessible to a bigger audience, you will improve the overall experience.
Web Accessibility Explained
Web accessibility isn’t a new concept. Developers started working with accessibility in mind during the late 90s. This is around the time that the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) was introduced by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The goal was to make web content accessible to those with disabilities.
The W3C created a set of standards for web accessibility called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0). They also created guidelines for content creation and development called the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG 2.0) and Accessible Rich Internet Application (ARIA 1.0).
Common Disabilities and How They Affect Online Learning
Disabilities can vary significantly from one user to the next. Even those with similar conditions may have varying degrees of ability. Creating content and applications that cater to as many people as possible helps eLearning be as inclusive as possible.
You can read more about LMS features and accessibility for specific platforms at LMS.org. Before doing so, you should gain an understanding of different disabilities and how they affect user experience.
- Motor Skill Impairment
People with motor skill impairment may have difficulty using peripherals like a traditional mouse and keyboard. They may use other technology to help them interact with web content, like an onscreen or large key keyboard. They may also navigate using speech recognition software. To help, many devices have on-screen keyboards. eLearning can be made more accessible with speech recognition capability for a hands-free experience.
- Impaired Hearing
Hearing loss can become a barrier between learners and audio content. Web-based tools can help by providing captioning. To help make your content as accessible as possible, you can add captions to ensure they are accurate and ready to use without needing a third-party app. Captions can also help people who learn better through reading and writing as well as those whose first language may not be English.
- Impaired Vision
Vision loss can mean blindness or diminished sight, like those who are farsighted, nearsighted, or color blind. Those with little to no sight often face some of the most significant barriers when it comes to accessing online content. Many rely on screen readers, which use text-to-speech to read what’s on the screen. Including text alternatives in your content will help those who are visually impaired. This includes text in images and tags. Also, using a responsive web design can give users more accessibility options.
- Cognitive Impairment
Cognitive impairment can affect a person’s ability to understand information. Barriers for this group tend to focus on memory, complexity, predictability, and consistency. To improve the experience for someone with cognitive impairment, try using consistent language. Also, use language at a 9th or 10th grade level and avoid metaphors, idioms, or sarcasm. Non-standard forms of language may be misunderstood, so keep this in mind.
These factors should also be considered when building a training program that includes both in-person and online learning. You can learn how to optimize your LMS for a hybrid work environment that’s accessible to everyone.
How to Make Your eLearning Content Accessible
If you use a good LMS, then some of the accessibility may be taken care of for you. When authoring content, your eLearning platform will create a consistent interface that helps improve access. It creates a familiar layout for easier navigation. Other accessibility features may also be automatically applied.
That’s a good start, but it isn’t the only thing you should do to make your content accessible to as many users as possible. The way you create and distribute your content could work against accessibility. That’s why it’s important to know what you should do to adhere to the standards every time you add new courses or training materials.
Creating a positive learning environment with eLearning starts with accessibility. Here’s what you can do to optimize your content for all users.
- Add text to all non-text content, like alt tags for images or captions for video or audio
- Use appropriate style headers like H1 and H2 instead of only bolding titles and headings
- Only use bullet points or numbers for all lists and avoid using hyphens or other characters
- Do not use highlights or colors to emphasize text, instead use bold or italic fonts
- Make sure all visual elements have good contrast between dark and light areas
- Offer a tutorial or welcome tour for new users to get acquainted with your content
- Don’t use color to organize content because this may be difficult for colorblind learners
- Use a consistent interface through all eLearning courses and content
Check out your LMS to see if it offers any accessibility-related features that will help you reach more learners and improve the user experience.