A Short Guide to Using Accessible and Inclusive Language in eLearning

Stop me if you have heard this before in your eLearning courses:

“See below for…”.

“Look back at…”.

“Click here for more information…”.

“Refer to the blue box for…”.

These are typical statements used in eLearning, but they aren’t inclusive for all learners. Do you know why?

There is lots of information available and many how-to’s on designing and developing accessible eLearning courses. However, what many courses are missing is accessible and inclusive language.

We know that many people use accessible elements who may not be the traditional users of accessible courses (e.g., someone watching a video while their child is sleeping may use closed captions); but there are also many people who have invisible challenges or disabilities that may be impacted by the language we use in our courses.

Review those original statements again.

Can you identify the problems?


Take “click here for more information…”.

Often, when we describe instructions on how to interact with our screen elements, we are using non-inclusive language. For example, during a matching activity, we may ask the user to “click on each drop down menu to choose the correct answer”.

While this is the action that will occur for users who are using a mouse, this is not the action that someone using a keyboard would need to take. – they have therefore been excluded from the point. 

And it’s not only someone who has a disability who may be using a keyboard to navigate; a learner’s mouse battery may have died during the module, for example.People have many visible and invisible challenges to learning.

Review this example, which asks the learner to “Click on each purple circle for more information.” For someone using a mouse they can click on those circles, but for someone navigating the module using a keyboard, they cannot click.

An on screen activity with the words "Click on" emphasized with a circle

Figure 1.1

Simply adjusting this language from “click” to “select” makes this kind of instruction much clearer and more inclusive for everyone because it doesn’t assume the method of interaction. Now someone using a keyboard can “select each dropdown menu to choose the correct answer”. This simple change makes this interaction applicable for all users.

An on screen activity for the word "Select" emphasized with a red circle

Figure 1.2

Transitions + Examples

When we design and develop an eLearning course with a conversational tone, we often use terminology like “let’s see how this applies…”. However, using the word “see” is not inclusive for those who have sight impairments or who are blind. While this is not an issue of clarity, it excludes a portion of your sudent-base. It is meant to be colloquial, but ends up being exclusive.

Review this example, which asks the learner to recall information learned from a previous section. The language used is, “Let’s see how well you remember…”.

An on screen activity with the words "lets see how" emphasized with a red circle

Figure 2.1

Rather than “let’s see”, we can use “let’s focus on”, “in this example”, “review” or just remove the problematic language, as below. This provides the same idea, but removes the exclusive language.

On screen activity with the words "How well you" emphasized with a red circle

Figure 2.2

Can you locate any other problematic language that has been changed in Figure 2.2?

Object reference

To make instructions clear, we often refer to images, objects and other on-slide elements. This is done with good intentions to help people navigate the on-screen elements and find references. For example, someone may say “please click the blue button for more information”. For someone who cannot see or who may have colour blindness, these references will not be clear, nor accessible.

Review this example, which is asking the learner to select the correct response to the provided question. Unfortunately, this example refers to a shape (circle), colour (yellow) and direction (below) on the slide.

multiple choice question with the words "below by clicking on the yellow circles" emphasized with a red circle

Figure 3.1

Rather, you should represent interactive elements in multiple ways. This may include a colour and a shape or a thick outline and different contrasting colours. Having two means of representation will help someone who has a visual impairment of any kind. In addition, alternative text will help to describe objects for those who cannot see them at all.

The original example has been changed to remove the reference to colour, shape and location of the options on the slide. It is still clear for sighted learners, but doesn’t exclude those with visual impairments or those who have blindness.

multiple choice question with the words "select the correct answer from the options provided" emphasized with a red circle

Figure 3.2

These small changes can make a big impact on clarity and inclusivity with very little effort on the part of the developer. With just a few adjustments to the typical language you may use, you can include more people in the experience of exceptional eLearning.

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