I was recently tasked to research and develop a course prototype that could function as an accessible course for learners with disabilities. There was only one problem; I had absolutely no idea what that really meant, or how to even begin the process! Initially, I thought this meant that I needed to make sure all the courses could be translated into different languages and be available online. While both of those things are important with eLearning, it doesn’t scratch the surface of creating adequate accessibility.
Up to this point, the only accessibility efforts I had been familiar with was creating Accessible Course Index resource documents. Essentially, these PDFs replicated the content on the slides throughout our courses and can be navigated with a screen reader. You can read more about ACIs here.
Creating a course with accessibility in mind was different from the process of creating the ACI resource document. The first step was to learn what making a course accessible consists of, and why it is an important part of digital communication and eLearning.
Course accessibility ensures that learners with auditory or visual impairments can navigate course material as efficiently and effectively as learners without disabilities.
Every company that seeks to educate and develop eLearning should strive to accommodate as many learners as possible.
Accessibility begins long before you program your first slide. Here are a few things to consider in the course development stage.
- There needs to be clear and consistent navigation for learners utilizing screen readers.
- Learners with mobility disabilities may opt to use keyboard navigation to advance through their course. Creating keystroke commands allows learners to easily navigate independently.
- Alt text is read by a screen reader in place of objects and pictures. You want it to be as descriptive as possible to clearly paint a picture for the learner.
Focus order/order of content
- The order in which content is read by a screen reader is important to the overall learner experience.
- Be mindful of the colors you choose as the background and text colors throughout your course. Learners with moderate visual impairments may have issues seeing content when two color ratios are similar.
Transcript and closed captioning
- Providing transcripts and closed captioning for hearing impaired learners allows them to have access to video and audio content throughout the course.
It is important to use all of the tools available through your design software to cater to as many people as possible and address some of the categories listed above. The software I used, Articulate Storyline, has its own built-in features to address things like focus order, closed captioning controls, and adding alt text.
During my research I came across two sets of standards governing accessibility in the U.S. The first is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The WCAG provides a list of guidelines for developers to follow when creating internet based learning materials. The second is 508 compliance under section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This legislation requires all federal documents that are available electronically to be accessible to everyone with varying degrees of visual and auditory disabilities. Instructional designers should understand, or at least be aware, of these guidelines before developing course materials.
Every company offering eLearning should offer options that provide accessibility. It is not only smart from a business perspective, but it is the right thing to do ethically. One major takeaway from this project is that in creating an accessible course, you improve the overall quality and usability of your product for every learner.
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