The last week of May (26th May to 1st June) is National Accessibility week in Canada and provinces across the country are using this opportunity to celebrate the contributions of people with disabilities and impairments. There will be discussions, films, special promotions and campaigns to not just raise awareness about accessibility but to explore how all services can be made more accessible. An example that really stands out, North Bay’s Mayor Al McDonald will be taking a bus ride blindfolded in a wheelchair so as to experience what those with disabilities go through while accessing city transit. I think we should all reflect on what we can do in our own fields to make our services more accessible and inclusive. Let’s examine accessibility in eLearning.
Similar to Mayor McDonald, let’s try and experience what it might be like to navigate an eLearning course with a disability. Try navigating through the course with your eyes shut and only use the keyboard. Then try watching a video but with the volume off. How much of it did you understand? Unfortunately, those with disabilities go through these challenges every single day.
Disability is more common than you might think: According to the World Health Organization, there are over 1 billion people world over, living with disabilities. That is 1 in 6 of us. And 80% of these 1 billion falls in the 18 to 64 years of age category – which is, generally speaking the working population. Types of disabilities are varied too – including full or partial impairments in seeing, hearing, mobility, flexibility, dexterity, pain, learning, developmental, mental/psychological, and memory.
The world of learning is gravitating increasingly to online learning. So, if eLearning is not accessible, it automatically shuts out a large section of the world from crucial learning opportunities.
1) Wider coverage – When an eLearning course is accessible to everyone, it becomes inclusive and ensures the widest cultural representation. This broadens both the learning cohorts, and learning opportunities.
2) Higher learner engagement – Making eLearning accessible involves using various media and many strategies for engaging learners. When Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles are used to create accessible courses, we cater to different learning styles and make courses more engaging and useful for everyone.
3) Inclusive organisation culture – According to Accessibility Ontario [ii], companies who invested in accessible employment saw lower employee turnover, greater customer loyalty, and stronger competitive capabilities. Along those same lines, organisations that invest in accessible online learning not only cater to employees with a disability, but also establish themselves as socially responsible and sensitive corporate citizens.
The traditional approach to making learning accessible has been reactive. Students/participants request accommodation for a disability and then alterations are made to accommodate their needs. For instance, a visually impaired student may be asked to submit an audio assignment instead of a written one. However, neither is this approach sensitive, nor entirely effective as there might be a lot of students, employees or clients with non-visible disabilities. Some students might not even be comfortable revealing that they have a disability. That is why a proactive approach of making curriculum accessible at the outset is much more effective.
A simple model to keep in mind while designing accessible eLearning is the Universal Design for Learning(UDL) model which is based on 3 principles
Let’s translate UDL into practical tips to make eLearning accessible:
1. Create ALT tags to describe each image or diagram.
2. Use closed captions or transcripts for videos and audios
3. Make sure your course can be accessed using only the keyboard
4. Use inclusive language. For example, ‘click’ here might not be inclusive as those who use screen readers will not be able to click.
5. Ensure your fonts are clear and large enough for those with poor vision to read.
6. Ensure sufficient colour contrasts between background and foreground and between fonts and background. Use a colour contrast checker to make sure you are getting it right. This is essential for learners who are colour blind.
7. Use simple language. English might not be the first language for some learners
8. Avoid drop-down menus as screen readers will interpret them as a single object
Whether you are a Learning and Development executive outsourcing the development of an eLearning course, or an Instructional Designer/Developer developing it, we all benefit when we make our learning solutions more accessible and inclusive. To get help with making an accessible digital learning course, book a demo with Artha!