Accessibility in elearning: busting some myths
Lead Learning Designer at Kineo
Accessibility describes how easy it is for people to access content online. Originally, I'm from a web design background. In that part of the technology industry, there's a long-established movement to make content accessible to all users. The web is the sole way to access some services and to restrict access to certain people, even accidentally, can fall foul of equality laws and alienate sections of the site's audience.
The truth about elearning accessibility standards
The elearning world hasn't embraced accessibility in quite the same way. Supporting high levels of accessibility requires extra design, build and testing time. Organisations often prefer to identify users whose requirements aren't covered in the online version and deliver alternative training through face-to-face or other means. However, more and more organisations are waking up to the benefits of investing in elearning that's suitable for everyone within their organisation, no matter the requirements of those users. It's why the core components of the Kineo-founded Adapt framework are designed to support recognised accessibility guidelines.
So what do learning designers and course creators need to know to start making fully accessible content? A good place to start is to bust some of the common myths.
Myth 1: Accessibility is just for people with disabilities
People with disabilities benefit particularly well from courses that follow accessibilty recommendations, but that's not the full picture. Rather, accessibility is about removing barriers for anybody who wants to access your content. It's easy to generalise about the requirements of people with different conditions such as visual or hearing impairments or motor impairments. In reality, everyone's requirements are unique and this extends to all your users. Ever heard someone complain that onscreen motion makes them feel ill or distracted, or that a combination of colours gives them a headache? These sensations needn't be related to a recognised disability but these people would benefit from courses that follow accessibility guidelines. In some cases, users just appreciate the added usability and choice that comes from course creators following good practice.
Myth 2: Accessibility is an add-on
To say a course has no accessibility is pretty much saying no one can access it. All courses have a level of accessibility, low or high. The trick is knowing how accessible your content is. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) publish recommendations to benchmark levels of accessibility, the most comon of which are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Currently on version 2.0, these includeseveral categories that represent different levels of recommended accessibility - A, AA and AAA. A is the lowest recommendation and includes basics like being able to navigate content with a keyboard. AAA is the highest and goes as far as to recommend sign language for videos. AAA isn't achieveable for all types of experience (the guidelines make this clear) so AA is the most commonly followed guideline by people seeking to ensure a high level of accessibility.
Since WCAG 2.0 was introduced in 2008, technology and its related challenges have continued to progress, as have guidelines. The Adapt framework follows a set of complementary standards created for rich web applications, WAI-ARIA (Web Accessibility Initiative – Accessible Rich Internet Applications).
Myth 3: Accessibility is a technical thing
Accessibility recommendations aren't just about making sure text can be read by text-to-speech software and making sure people can navigate between buttons with a tab key. Many of the guidelines are good usability guidelines and refer to the way you design your visuals and content. This is an important point - just because you've got the techy stuff covered doesn't mean your course is accessible to everyone.
Myth 4: If it's in HTML, it's accessible
This isn't always true. HTML content needs to be built and designed to be accessible. Plus, recapping on the previous myth, your platform might be accessible but your content needs to be accessible too. A similar presumption is that Flash content can't be accessible. This very much depends on the capabilities of the tool its created in and whether the creator has followed good practice. For example, Articulate Storyline 2's Flash-based output can be made accessible to recognised standards. In Storyline's case, its Flash output can actually be made more accessible than its HTML output. Whatever your tool, remember all approaches need extra time and care to ensure you reach your full audience.
Myth 5: If there's a word transcript of the content, that's fine
Perhaps - alternative versions can be appropriate. However, think carefully. Is the experience as rich and meaningful as the 'full' version? If not, you aren't providing an equal experience and this in itself could be considered a let-down for some users. Although text versions can be fine, it can sometimes be more desirable to make the course itself screen-reader friendly. A transcript might still be appreciated by some users, simply because some people like to print content and digest it away from a computer.
Though offering alternatives has traditionally been the default or seen as the easy win, technological advances and shifting sentiments have made it harder to ignore that there are opportunities to offer all users a better learning experience through embracing accessibility.
Kineo plays a key role in creating inclusive learning experiences around the world - from the innovative courses we've created to the part we've played founding Adapt and Totara LMS. Get in touch to find out how we can help you train all your learners.