Introduction to elearning accessibility


April 9, 2021

As designers, we have a responsibility for everything we create. As learning designers, this means creating elearning that is inclusive, has a positive impact and engages learners. A key element to inclusion, but not the only element, is accessibility. We must ensure that we make every effort to ensure our elearning can be physically used by learners. 

Web Standards.

There are currently no specific guidelines for elearning accessibility. A good starting point though will be to familiarise yourself with The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) for web content. 

Perceivable Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
Operable User interface components and navigation must be operable.
Understandable Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
Robust Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

These guidelines must be considered in the context of the four recognised areas that require additional support. 

These are: 

  • Auditory (for example people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing) 
  • Visual (for example people who are blind, have low vision and people who are colour blind) 
  • Motor (for example people with limited fine motor control)
  • Cognitive (for example people with learning disabilities)

These four areas have different support needs, and their solutions may overlap so you must ensure you consider them when applying macro and micro solutions. All too often people will focus on one area (for example people who are blind or low vision) and build solutions focussed on this, that then impact on or miss other learners needs. We will look at this area in more detail in an upcoming blog post (you can always sign up for our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss out). 

Although we have a legal requirement to make our elearning accessible under the Equality Act 2010, meeting these basic legal standards is a good start, but it isn’t enough. We have a moral responsibility to make every effort we can to ensure that all users have the best experience when using the elearning. 

To help you to start to understand some of the issues experienced it is useful to put yourself in their place and try reviewing a piece of elearning in the same way they would. So we have two challenges for you that focus on two areas. 

Challenge 1 – Navigate a module without a mouse.

Although many of the popular development tools such as Adobe Captivate and Articulate Storyline have made huge improvements to the accessibility of their outputs, they still require considerable manual intervention to ensure a viable experience for the learner. For example, a development tool will automatically set up an order of how the objects should be experienced on screen, but this order is not tailored to the interaction. This can mean that player elements need to be navigated past on each slide before they reach the actual content. It might also mean that buttons come before the text, or body text comes before a title.  

People navigating your module without a mouse will include people who have:

  • Fine motor control restrictions (for example due to Parkinson’s or severe arthritis)
  • Restricted use of their hands or arms (for example as a result of an accident or disability)
  • Large motor control issues (for example Multiple sclerosis)
  • Visual impairment (restricted vision, blind)

 To understand what this means in practice, we challenge you to open a SCORM package and use only the tabbing key and/or arrow keys to see how far you can get through a module without: 

  1. Getting stuck?
  2. Giving up?

Challenge 2 – Use a screen reader. 

If you have never experienced using a piece of elearning using a screen reader, then this is our second challenge for you. Whilst people with access needs have their own assistive technology and more experience in using accessibility tools doing this yourself will give you a huge insight into what it’s like on a practical level.  

If you don’t have an organisation subscription, you can use a tool such as NVDA, which is a free, open-source screen reader for windows, and VoiceOver if you are on a Mac.

Click here for a guide to installing NVDA and instructions on basic navigation. 

Carrying out this type of review will help you to see that without work to improve their experience people using this type of technology will have a very poor experience that is slow, confusing and difficult which seriously affects their learning experience. 

Next steps?

How did you get on? Was it easy to navigate? Did you find there were things that you would do to improve the learner’s experience? Next week we will be publishing five tips to help you get started on enhancing accessibility in your authoring tool. Although this will be focused on making these changes in Articulate Storyline, it will include advice for everyone.

In the meantime, if you are interested in an overview of Inclusive Design, check out our video of a session we delivered that explains what this means in practice. 

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