“Accessible design is good design – it benefits people who don’t have disabilities as well as people who do. Accessibility is all about removing barriers and providing the benefits of technology to everyone.” – Steve Ballmer
A simple access to the Internet and the whole wide world is literally at our fingertips. It isn’t really hard to understand then, why eLearning has taken root. That said, though, does everyone really have the same kind of access to certification programs, training programs, and eLearning content that we take so much for granted? This is where accessible eLearning comes into the picture.
Accessible eLearning implies giving a fair online platform to any individual, from any sector, to gain knowledge. It involves removing barriers a person may face due to age, disability, and the like, and make acquiring information off the Internet, say via an online course, a smooth and functional process. In this regard, the content needs to meet the requirements set under the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) which is internationally followed as well as the Section 508 Standards, generally followed within the US. These are basically global standards to ensure that individuals with even physical disabilities have web accessibility. Implementing assistive technologies such as screen readers form a vital part of such course materials. Let’s list here some points which can assist in an error-free information transfer between the content creator and the audience in these situations.
· Styling – Uncluttered screen will automatically make the text easier for the reader to grasp. Font style, text color, text size, contrasts (especially for images), spacing, formatting are some of the issues that shouldn’t hinder the effectiveness of the content. For text matter, readability has to be given its due importance. It will further be better enhanced with proper screen layout. If there are pop-ups, then the time duration for which they will remain on the screen will matter as well.
· Audio/ video performance – For any content, a learner should not have to strain himself to grasp what is being said. It can be a huge deterrent if the audio quality is poor and would defocus the learner. Also, poor imagery can limit the access to the content leading to a reduction in the ability of the audience to grasp the content. Providing captions where complex terminology is used will facilitate the learning flow. Synchronized captioning is also important for learners with hearing impairment and assuring such sensitivity only goes on to highlight the values the company professes.
· Navigation – Complex navigation will just confuse the learner. He or she needs to move from one page to the next rather effortlessly so that the information flow remains continuous. Also, processing of the content will be smooth and result in better learning, which is the primary aim of the facilitator. Labels, buttons need to be clearly noticeable and should function correctly. Using HTML tags at least for basic functions such as ‘back’ and ‘next’ is also a good idea for the ease of navigation using the keyboard. At the same time, ALT tags with a description of an image will greatly help learners to cope with the information.
· Language – Clear, simple sentences simplify the entire learning process. It will help accommodate native as well as non-native English language speakers, thus giving an impression that the company is aware of its audience requirements. It is also imperative to be sensitive towards the audience demographics and avoid words/negative expressions which might hurt their religious or social needs.
Of course, quality content is of utmost importance. Hence, the very first thing to tackle would be to identify and define the target audience, understand their learning needs, and then accordingly develop content. After all, knowing which options can make the information reach a wider population will go with the basic premise of creating accessible eLearning materials.
In closing, let’s hark back to the Ballmer quote. The fact is many of the considerations that go into making content more accessible are likely to be just as useful in making the content more legible, readable, and navigate-able – that’s good practice even if you are not specifically setting out to improve accessibility!