Take Ctrl! Don’t Sabotage Learners with Poor Accessibility Design!

eLearning accessibility tips learned through experience…

Why Care About Accessibility?

I care about ALL learners and I am sure you do too.

If half your learners were to say they couldn’t see the whiteboard, would you plant your feet firmly and refuse to move out of the way?  Of course not! So why wouldn’t you take the time to make some adjustments in your eLearning to ensure everyone can hear, see, understand or interact with what you are teaching?

Approximately 3.8 million adult Canadians identified themselves has having a disability in the 2012 Statistics Canada Survey on Disability. This is more than 13% of all adults. Because some don’t self-identify, the number is thought to be could be even higher. In addition, more than 80% of people with disabilities use aids and assistive devices like screen readers.

If this isn’t enough to convince you of the importance of accessibility design, in 2005, Ontario recognized the need to end the inequity of services for those with disabilities by introducing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). This legislation is closely tied with the Ontario Human Rights Code in its goals of creating a more inclusive province. Of particular interest to online educators are the AODA rules around education and web content. Even if some of us aren’t bound by AODA, as educators, we should do everything we can to ensure inclusion. 

Here are a few eLearning accessibility design lessons I’ve learned along the way to help you through the process…

8 Accessibility Design Tips

1. Understand the Law & the Guidelines

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), 2005 provides information about how to identify and remove barriers, and your specific compliance dates. Review the Act to determine if you must comply and when. Don’t rely on summaries or tips created by others, always go to this source.

 As an example, these are some key AODA requirements for public educators:

  • Provide accessible educational information
  • Make it easy for people with disabilities to provide feedback
  • Make new websites or web content accessible
  • Provide accessible textbooks
  • Provide accessible school library resources
  • Make printed learning materials accessible
  • Make all websites and web content accessible

As you can see, many of these can relate to eLearning.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 provide design recommendations for making web content more accessible for people with vision, auditory, learning, cognitive, physical and speech related disabilities.  Each of the 12 guidelines includes three levels of accessibility (A, AA, and AAA) in the form of test success criteria. For a summary of the guidelines, see WCAG 2.0 at a Glance. Following these guidelines will improve usability for everyone, not just those who have identified disabilities. WCAG, along with Section 508 in the United States have both become the gold standard for web design and many software packages now market this guideline compliance as a selling feature.

2. Learn How Accessibility Software Works

Assistive Technologies allow those with disabilities to build on strengths and remove barriers. Educators and eLearning developers need to understand assistive technologies, how people use them and how to design and test to ensure compatibility.

  • Watch videos like this JAWS Tutorial to see how accessibility software works
  • Get a trial copy of accessibility software like JAWS or Dragon and use it yourself
  • Observe an actual accessibility software user to see the nuances of how it is used.

3. Create a Design Checklist & Use it to Design for and Test Accessibility

  • Make your own easy to follow accessibility checklist you can use to design, develop and then test your eLearning products with or use the simplified WCAG Quick Reference Tool that lists all the guideline along with many sample techniques for meeting each guideline.

4. Choose a WCAG 2.0 Compliant eLearning Development Tool

  • Research a variety of eLearning development tools and select one that is WCAG 2.0 compliant e.g., Lectora. Although many software tools now indicate they are compliant, remember that you will need to make specific design or development choices in your build to ensure your products truly are.

5. Simplify Content to Ensure Readability

  • Start by ensuring you chunk your content into digestible amounts
  • Always write in plain language and use readability checker features in eLearning development software or other tools like Microsoft Word’s Readability Checker to ensure you’ve hit the right level.

6. Create an Accessible Template

  • Make all your accessibility decisions up front and then create a reusable template. Your template should include accessible colours, fonts and consistent navigation and you should ensure it passes the WCAG success criteria before you start using it for content.

7. Test, Revise & Test Again

  • Depending on the type of product you are creating, use built-in eLearning development software accessibility checkers or tools like AChecker or  Colours On the Web Color Contrast Analyzer to do your nitial compliance test.s Just because you design to meet standards, it doesn’t mean your courses will work well for all learners because of the nuances of each assistive software used.
  • Ensure full compatibility by removing your mouse and testing navigation without only your keyboard.
  • Find an accessibility software user and ask them to test it while you observe them. Observing actual users has been the most important part of my learning. Doing this, you see how meeting basic WCAG requirements can fall short and how things you thought may be an issue are not because of how your learners expertly use the tools.

8. Learn and Adjust

  • Continue to develop to your accessibility checklist, template and find new and better development and testing tools. Also, keep abreast of any new accessibility software or software versions and grow your community of testers.

In short, don’t be scared! Educate yourself, build, try and test your products to improve your reach and ensure your eLearning is accessible to everyone.

Your learners will thank you!

Additional Resources


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