How To Achieve E-Learning Accessibility
Accessibility in e-learning involves using technology and standards to create training content that is fully accessible to all learners, regardless of whether they have a disability or not.
Accessibility is not the same as usability
When we talk about e-learning, we often talk about usability. Usability refers to the user’s experience of the course. Can the learner accomplish what they set out to do in your course without any barriers?
What is often less talked about is making e-learning accessible for people with disabilities.
Making your service accessible is a requirement in the UK under the Equality Act 2010, and yet until recently, this has not been a high priority for corporate e-learning buyers. For years, the solution has been to provide a Word or PDF version of the content as the ‘accessible’ alternative.
Though this meets the bare minimum of compliance with the law, it offers an extremely poor learning experience for those who need to use it. It also lays bare a common misconception about accessibility.
Below we explain each of the key aspects you need to understand to achieve accessibility in e-learning:
- Why is accessibility in e-learning important?
- How can we implement accessibility?
- The four principles of accessibility
- Best practice: Accessibility in action at Barclays
- E-Learning Accessibility Through Skillcast
1. Why is accessibility in e-learning important?
There are an estimated 3.8 million people with disability in the UK workforce today. Though in reality, that number is probably higher, as many with disabilities such as colour blindness or dyslexia do not always declare their disability out of fear of discrimination.
Companies that demonstrate inclusivity in their learning are likely to outperform in every aspect of their business - from their reputation and employee wellbeing to their sales and bottom line.
Making e-learning content accessible to all
Disabilities are diverse. It sounds obvious, but it is often forgotten. Accessibility is commonly stereotyped and oversimplified. In relation to online content, it evokes an image of a user requiring a screen reader.
"Disability is not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives."
In the real world there are a whole host of different accessibility personas. For example:
- Harry has cerebral palsy and navigates via voice-recognition software
- Seema is blind and relies on screen-reading software
- Jo is dyslexic and struggles with blocks of text and certain colour combinations
- David is partially sighted
- Shafiq has broken his fingers and cannot use his mouse
Understanding that there are many diverse disabilities leads us to consider how we can cater for all these learners.
As a business, your people are your biggest risk for compliance. You need to ensure that all your employees are able to understand and consume the information in your e-learning courses as it will impact the way they act and the way they carry out their work.
2. How can we implement accessibility?
As technology enables us to move towards creating more interactive and more engaging e-learning courses, we risk widening the gap between the training experience of those with and without disabilities even further.
Accessibility in e-learning doesn’t just mean providing a Word or PDF version. There is so much we can do to create innovative e-learning material with accessibility at the heart of it. We can create one format of content that will cater for all requirements.
Innovation and accessibility are not mutually exclusive. We can make e-learning more enjoyable for everyone - regardless of whether or not they have a disability.
Creating accessible e-learning content is reliant on three key things: universal design, universal access and management buy-in.
A. Universal Design
Let’s go back to our accessibility personas. By focusing on the persona or person, we can ensure that we design a learning experience that works. But, this doesn’t mean that we want to develop a different version for Harry, Seema, Jo, David, and Shafiq. That would be impractical and detrimental for users, who’d have to wade through a complicated selection.
Instead, we need to focus on Universal Design.
Universal Design means one course designed for all; one single version that fits the needs of all individuals with different abilities, albeit with assistive technologies.
Universal Design is becoming the new standard for accessibility in e-learning. We have moved away from offering separate accessible versions to creating content that is still rich with interactivity but also fully accessible and enjoyable for all learners, regardless of their abilities or reliance on assistive software.
Getting this right is not easy. It requires both learning developers and SMEs to think outside of the box, as there are many challenges to overcome. For instance, there are many types of screen reading software; different apps that all work in slightly different ways. Content needs to be designed to meet the needs of all of those tools. This requires a great deal of research, testing, and cooperation. Yet, the end result is incredibly rewarding.
B. Universal Access
Universal Access means creating content that is responsive to the learner’s device and that includes built-in HTML with no requirements for add-ins so that e-learning courses are responsive to the learner’s device.
C. Management buy-in
Building e-learning content that is universally acceptable requires an investment in building templates as well as upskilling the development team. It also requires setting expectations and raising awareness in your organisation. For this, you need buy-in from your senior management from the outset.
3. The four principles of accessibility
The current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) stipulate that e-learning content must be:
- 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 assistive technologies
So how can we put these into practice when designing e-learning courses?
4. Best Practice: Accessibility in action at Barclays
Barclays is proud of its mission to become the most inclusive FTSE company for all clients, customers, and colleagues. Accessibility is at the heart of everything they do.
Being a bank, Barclays take compliance training very seriously, with many mandatory training courses rolled out every quarter. It is important that all staff can fully understand and process the information in these training modules because it impacts the way they act and the way they carry out their work.
For the last few years, Barclays have been working hard to make compliance training accessible to everyone within the company. This has involved educating internal teams and suppliers on accessibility requirements and how to make compliance training engaging and interactive for everyone, regardless of whether they have a disability.
They have since achieved some significant changes to their compliance courses. For example, they are now able to ensure that:
- All training modules can be completed using only a keyboard
- All buttons and controls are sufficiently labelled so that people using a screen reader can get the correct information for each component
- The feedback around whether an answer is correct or incorrect is read out automatically to people using a screen reader
The feedback Barclays have received from employees with a disability has been very positive, especially from colleagues who were used to just being sent a PDF.
5. E-Learning Accessibility Through Skillcast
At the heart of our development in 2019 was the creation of a universal design to improve accessibility for everyone. Instead of having a standard version and a separate accessible version for learners with disabilities, the new Essentials library features a single unified version that works equally well for all learners.
The 2019 update also features a more modern and intuitive learning experience as well as significant updates to the text content and visuals of some of the most popular courses, including Anti-Bribery, Anti-Money laundering, Competition Law, and Fraud Prevention.
Want to learn more about e-Learning & compliance?
As well as 30+ free training aids, we regularly publish e-Learning & compliance blogs. And, if you're looking for a compliance training solution with accessibility baked-in, why not visit our Compliance Essentials course library.
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