Designing Accessible Learning Experiences
“Accessibility”. When you hear or see that word, what do you think of? You might think of wheelchair ramps. You might think of accessible hotel rooms or restrooms. Since you’re reading this blog, you might think of 508 compliance. You might think of screen readers or text-to-speech tools or audio transcripts.
Now, let me change one word in that question. IF you can hear or see that word, what do you think of? This changes things a bit, doesn’t it? Have you ever thought about what it’s like to experience the world with a disability? Have you ever thought about what it’s like to experience your LMS or your elearning course with a disability?
I continue to be frustrated by the lack of awareness or consideration for a large and growing percentage of our audiences. Jane Bozarth puts it perfectly,
“Arguing about it took longer than just doing it. I’m frustrated that awareness is still such a challenge. Why don’t more people care?”
The reason I write and speak about usability and accessibility is because too often it is an afterthought. It is something designers or developers do at the end of a project rather than the beginning. “Oh, don’t forget we need to make this accessible.”
That’s not how it works!
We must start with accessibility in mind. We must ensure we consider everyone who is likely to experience what we put out into the world. This is not an option. You don’t get to choose whether to make something accessible. Beyond compliance issues, it’s just the right thing to do for your fellow humans.
Accessibility is not a key design consideration in many L&D departments, and we need to change that. That starts with you. Whatever role you play in your organization, you can make a difference. Start with the research and references at the bottom of this article, and in other articles I’ve written on this subject. When you see something should be accessible (everything), but isn’t, say something. Do something.
Adopt Best Practices in Accessibility
The easiest thing to start with is a simple design check at the beginning of each project. Who is this for? Are we considering everyone who might experience this content now or in the future? On the topic of designing for future audiences, consider new hire orientation as a simple example. If you only create it to be accessible to your current employee base, and then your organization hires someone who has a different kind of disability, all your content becomes inaccessible. Be inclusive!
Do Not Discriminate
Remember, this is not just about people who are deaf or blind, nor is it limited to online content. When you deliver workshops or live training, are you choosing accessible locations? Is your PowerPoint deck readable? Do you have someone available to translate? Certainly this varies depending on what you know about your audience, but make sure it’s part of your design checklist early in the process.
By preventing any audience from fully experiencing your content, you are being discriminatory. Many times, project members or stakeholders suggest creating two versions of a course when discussing accessibility. Avoid this. First, it’s discriminatory. Second, it’s easier to maintain and design a single, well-designed, accessible experience.
Chris Pappas writes,
“Creating two versions automatically discriminates people who may need help; this is offensive, as no one wants to be provided with “simplified” methods and tools. In practice, an excellent accessible eLearning course is as effective as an excellent eLearning course in general.”
While this is certainly not all you should consider (please review the resources I’ve shared, and do a bit of your own research, or attend one of my webinars), here’s a simple checklist to get you started.
Do you have…
- proper content structure and order (for screen readers) in course?
- alt text for images?
- descriptive text of what’s happening on the screen?
- colors and visual cues that work for those with color blindness?
- good contrast in visuals for those with vision impairments?
- subtitles or transcripts for videos?
- transcripts for anything with audio?
- content users can navigate without a standard mouse or keyboard (mobility)?
- an accessible event space for live events?
- translators (ASL or other languages)?
“it’s really about crafting experiences that are meant to be interacted with no matter what environment or device or configuration you happen to have”
As Yoda tells Luke as he is training, “Do or do not. There is no try.” You have two choices when it comes to accessibility:
- Do: Learn and apply best practices in creating accessible content. Share what you’re learning and how you’re applying it with at least one other person in your organization or industry.
- Do Not: Perpetuate the problem of discrimination and poor design practices and limit human access to your content.
Which will you choose?