Why accessibility is important
There are an estimated 3.8 million people with a disability in the UK workforce today. However, in reality, that number is probably higher, because many people with disabilities such as colour blindness or dyslexia do not always declare their disability out of a 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, which sounds obvious but 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 make good use of the information in your e-learning courses, as it will impact the way they act and carry out their work.
Simple accessibility checks
Getting started on making digital content accessible can be a daunting task.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international community where member organisations, a full-time staff and the public work together to develop Web standards.
It has created a set of easy accessibility checks for your content.
W3C easy checks
- Page title
- Image text alternatives
- "alt text" for pictures, illustrations, charts etc
- Contrast ratio ("colour contrast")
- Resize text
- Keyboard access and visual focus
- Forms, labels and errors (including search fields)
- Moving, flashing or blinking content
- Multimedia (video, audio) alternatives
- Basic structure check
The four principles of accessibility
Current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) recommend that e-learning content should be:
- Perceivable - information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive
- Operable - user interface components and navigation must work with input methods other than a mouse or track pad
- Understandable - information and the operation of the user interface must be clear and concise
- 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.
Accessibility in digital learning
As technology enables us to move towards creating more interactive and 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 mean just providing a Word or PDF version of a course. We can do so much more to create innovative e-learning material with accessibility at the heart of it and 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 that is 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 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 various types of screen-reading software and apps, all of which work in slightly different ways. Content needs to be designed to meet the needs of all of these tools. This requires a great deal of research, testing and cooperation, but the end result is gratifying.
B. Universal Access
Universal Access means creating content that is responsive to the learner's device, and this includes built-in HTML with no requirements for add-ins, so that e-learning courses are responsive.
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.
Challenges of 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's possible to create 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 on ways in which they would like to present the learning.
Case study: 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 that it does.
Being a bank, Barclays takes 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 that 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.
It has since achieved some significant changes to its compliance courses. For example, it is 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 that Barclays has received from employees with a disability has been very positive, especially colleagues who were used to just being sent a PDF.
Best practices in accessibility
If you'd like to stay up to date with accessibility best practices, industry insights, and key trends across regulatory compliance, digital learning, EdTech and RegTech news, subscribe to the Skillcast Compliance Bulletin.
Inclusive Design Principles
Inclusive Design Principles is a community that is about putting people first, and designing for the needs of people with permanent, temporary, situational or changing disabilities.
They are intended to give anyone involved in designing and developing websites and applications - designers, user experience professionals, developers, product owners, idea makers, innovators, artists and thinkers - a broad approach to inclusive design.
Web accessibility email discussion list
WebAIM seeks multifaceted collaborations with organisations seeking to foster an internal culture of accessible design and development at all levels.
Members of this list may be able to answer your Web accessibility questions... and you may hold the answer to someone else's questions!
Online Accessibility Webinar
Industry expert Léonie Watson joined us to share her expert guidance on improving the accessibility of your online learning content.
Léonie is a Director of TetraLogical, a member of the W3C Advisory Board, co-Chair of the W3C Web Applications Working Group, and a BIMA Inclusive Design Council member.
Watch this webinar to...
- Understand accessibility issues from a user’s perspective.
- Learn accessibility and universal design principles
- Discover how important accessibility is when purchasing online learning
- Get practical tips to make your content accessible.