Whether you develop eLearning for a corporation, academic institution, or government agency, you’ve likely encountered the challenge of developing accessible content. In this post, we’ll cover some basic best practices you can and should follow when developing eLearning that is accessible to learners with disabilities. In fact, following accessibility best practices will also help you to create more usable courses for all learners.
As background, government agencies in the United States are required by law to follow Section 508, a set of requirements for making electronic resources and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. These standards are based on guidelines originally developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative, known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG. WCAG is a global set of guidelines followed around the world.
For the purposes of this post, we’ll define accessible eLearning as web-based courses that can be taken and completed successfully by learners with disabilities. Accessible eLearning creates an online learning experience that includes as many people as possible regardless of their limitations—whether physical, sensory, or cognitive. Keep in mind that a learner with a disability may experience blindness, low vision, color blindness, deafness, hearing loss, or mobility impairments. Further, learners may use assistive technology, such as a screen reader, to interpret content on the screen.
By employing these best practices as you design and develop eLearning, you can work to create accessible content:
Rather than using a mouse, a learner may navigate through a course and the content on a page relying strictly on a keyboard. One of the best ways to test a course for accessibility is to unplug your mouse and ensure you can access all of the content and complete the course using only a keyboard. Determine if you can:
- Navigate through the course with your keyboard
- Access keyboard shortcuts when necessary
- Tab between fields like buttons, entry fields, and question controls
- Stop, pause, and play audio and video using the keyboard
Some learners depend on a keyboard tonavigate a course
A learner with a visual disability cannot interpret images and multimedia if they are not configured properly in your course. One of the most essential and straightforward methods for creating accessible content is to provide alternative text, or text equivalents, for course elements like graphics, audio, and video. Most authoring tools, like Lectora®, provide a way to define the alternative text or ALT text for visual elements in your course. Be sure to consider appropriate and descriptive alternative text as you develop content.
Provide short, descriptive alternative text for images
Images that act as links to a new page or window need even more descriptive alternative text. Provide the purpose of the link and indicate that selecting the image will navigate the user away from the page.
Similarly, a learner with an auditory disability cannot interpret narration or sound that is part of a video or audio file. In this case, you need to provide synchronized captioning.
Use synchronized captions for any video in your course
If your course has only audio, remember to provide a transcript. Video may also need to include an audio description as well.
Reading Order and Labels
Well-designed courses include a consistent layout with routine navigation placed in a standard location. Learners can easily glance at a page, find the navigation links, and quickly focus on the main content. Students who are using screen readers don’t have this advantage. A screen reader will interpret the HTML markup used to generate the page, rather than the page itself.
For this reason, it’s important to pay careful attention to the reading order of the elements used on a page. For example, paragraphs should be announced in logical order, and page titles should be read first, rather than last. Consider reading order as you develop and design your course, rather than after you have already added all of the content. This will save you time and rework down the road.
Further, remember to employ proper labels for text, form controls, and tables:
- Use text headers (H1, H2, H3, etc.) to identify and structure the text on a page.
- Identify header rows in data tables.
- Ensure questions and forms use labels to identify checkboxes, radio buttons, and entry fields.
Identify header rows when using data tables
Learner Controlled Interactions
When developing interactions in your course, ensure that the learner can initiate and control what happens on the page. Different disabilities can affect the time it takes or the means used to read a page, fill out a form, answer a test question, or complete an interaction.
As you develop interactive scenarios, remember these tips:
- Avoid timed games and tests. (If you must provide timed access to a page, be sure to provide a warning to the learner that time is about to run out, give them plenty of time to read the message, and provide the option to extend the time limit.)
- Avoid changing or updating content on the page automatically. Rather, let the learner initiate this change.
- Avoid flashing images and text. Not only can these be extremely dangerous to a learner with photosensitive epilepsy, but it can be distracting and unnecessary.
- Allow the learner to easily begin, complete, and exit a game, test, or interaction.
This dialog allows the learner to extend his or her time in the course
Like images, audio, and video, color is an equally important part of creating an attractive and visually interesting course. For students with visual disabilities, however, color can create confusion and barriers to accessibility.
To create accessible courses, always use color as the secondary indicator of meaning. For example, if you’re providing directions or options, explain those options with text and color. This creates a better and more usable course for all students.
Use color as a secondary indicator of meaning
While these best practices are by no means comprehensive, they will hopefully provide you with a basic foundation to use as you begin to design and develop accessible eLearning.
Stay tuned for an upcoming post that will take a deeper dive into the specific accessibility options and objects you can use in Lectora.
For more information and resources concerning accessibility, follow these links: