Why accessibility is 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 Content Accessible for All
Disabilities are diverse. It sounds obvious, but it is often forgotten. Accessibility is commonly stereotyped and oversimplified. With online content, it evokes an image of a user requiring a screen reader.
This is wholly incorrect. As the World Health Organisation says, “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 has dyslexia 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.
The Four Principles of Accessibility
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?
Follow these accessibility guidelines to make e-learning accessible for all learners.
How To 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. We can do so much to create innovative e-learning material with accessibility at the heart of it. We can create one format of content that will cater to 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 relies 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. 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 all individuals' needs 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 and 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 example, there are many types of screen reading software and different apps. 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 gratifying.
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 and 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.
Problems with Universal Design
Keeping it interactive
A common risk with the universal design approach is that developers give up on interactivity in a bid to cater for all personas. There is a tendency to go for the lowest common denominator and remove all the ‘bells and whistles’ that engage the learner. That’s wrong and unnecessary.
If you prioritise accessibility as well as interactivity from the outset, it is possible to write storyboards and design exercises and scenarios relevant to your audience that provide great learning engagement while being fully accessible.
Creating Accessible templates
Many learning developers struggle with accessibility because the commercially available applications are still deficient in catering for it. This leads to a poor learner experience, imperfect accessibility, browser incompatibility, and huge cost overruns.
To overcome this issue Skillcast has built interactive templates that conform to accessibility standards.
These templates are flexible and constantly evolving as new ideas come up with each project. Feedback from reviewers, especially those with disabilities, plays a key role in this process.
Feedback from learners on what works well is invaluable, as are any thoughts and ideas of ways in which they would like to present the learning.
Best Practice: Accessibility 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 has 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 making 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 automatically read aloud 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.