Why your company should care about eLearning accessibility, now

Ashleigh Lodge
Smiling woman with short, dark hair in a black, V-neck shirt.
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As an organization, training can help set everyone up for success. However, attention needs to be paid to how a learner can access, interact with, and process the training material.  Remove any potential barriers by making the training content accessible no matter their needs and allowing them to learn and engage with your content. Don’t make eLearning accessibility an afterthought. Since each person responds to and interprets information differently, the content created to help your employees may waste time and money if they cannot properly absorb the material that’s put in place to help them with their job. 

Instead, it's time to start focusing on eLearning accessibility at the forefront of your training initiatives and give each learner a fair chance to retain the information and get the most benefit from it. While there are more advances with accessible content for those with impaired vision or hearing loss, and mobility issues, there are other reasons to create accessible online training for people with different needs. You can utilize a variety of learning styles as long as the result maintains instructional value.

What does eLearning accessibility mean today?

"Learners have varied abilities, experiences, and knowledge," making it crucial for content to be accessible even for learners without identifiable disabilities, such as failing eyesight and hearing loss which are not categorized as a "disability." In addition, global organizations include staff speaking multiple languages, technology challenges, or struggle understanding industry jargon. 

Because of these evolving needs of the individual, Neovation is passionate about accessibility in all facets of life. Recently, team members volunteered their time to build accessibility aids for the Neil Squire Society's program, "Makers Making Change." So, in addition to their day jobs helping make the world of training more accessible, Neovation employees worked even harder to make other areas more accessible. For example, during the Buildathon, they created MMC60 Flexure switches, making it easier for people to control electronics like an Xbox. 

How to decipher guidelines and eLearning accessibility requirements

When getting started with accessibility, companies need to understand the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and how they are a set of standards and best practices for "creating accessible digital content by addressing a wide range of potential barriers." It is becoming easier each day for organizations to adopt different levels of WCAG conformance with their public-facing content, including online shops and services, educational materials (including for government websites), and online publications. 

Accessibility starts with POUR

Breaking down the WCAG guidelines, there are four principles to the foundation of accessible content best practices. These principles are known as POUR. 

  • Perceivable: material is available in more than one medium, making it available to multiple senses. For example, visual content also includes text versions with alt text or audio descriptions. 
  • Operable: both standard and adaptive input devices or technologies allow the users to interact in ways that work for them. Controls and interactive elements include keyboard equivalents. 
  • Understandable: content must be straightforward and unambiguous in a fitting language (English or another language). Additionally, any jargon is avoided or at least explained if necessary to include. Making the content understandable also includes avoiding idioms and cultural references that a non-native speaker would not understand. Adding visual or audio content options for text content is very helpful to aid with understanding. 
  • Robust: the training needs to be accessible to people of various backgrounds and abilities and is manageable through multiple technology and devices.

Understanding visible and invisible disabilities

For example, 61 million people in the U.S. (26% of the U.S. adult population) live with some form of disability. Globally, the United Nations reports that around 15% of the world's population are disabled, making them "the world's largest minority."

But disabilities are not always easily seen. Invisible or hidden disabilities include people living with a sleep disorder, chronic pain, or other ailments that aren't obvious unless you know the individual. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) says that an invisible disability "substantially limits one or more major life activities."

People living with disabilities are everywhere

The odds are that one or more people in your company live with some form of disability, so organizations must adhere to accessibility guidelines, including an organization’s eLearning ecosystem and training materials. Through the ADA and the Canadian Human Rights Act, it is required by law to demand companies provide web accessibility options for their online content. 

In addition to training course accessibility mandates, delivering accessible course design improves employee satisfaction. One of the advantages for both you and your employees with online training accessibility is how easier it is to engage with the material. According to Blake Morgan, companies that care about the employee experience are "four times more profitable than those who don't." So, adopting access to eLearning practices is worth the time and investment as your bottom-line see higher profits and employees more connected to their employer and each other.

What are the differences between accessible, usable, and universal design?

When looking at accessible course design or an eLearning platform, there are differences between accessible, usable, and universal designs, and it has significant impacts on the way your employees learn from your courses.

Accessible Design

The accessible design considers the needs of people living with disabilities when designing the product, such as how a disabled person uses the product. For instance, an accessible design considered how the text and background colors meet the ADA requirements and whether screen readers can see the content properly.

Usable Design

Usable design is based on the International Organization for Standardization and ensures that when your learner is going through the program, it's easy for them to use. A usable design looks at the user experience for learnability, consistency, efficiency, and effectiveness.

Universal Design

Universal design means it is "usable to all people...without the need for adaptation or specialized design." Instead of adapting the LMS or materials afterward, it saves money by ensuring the course design already includes accessibility options. Universal design consolidates everyone's abilities from the beginning and promotes inclusivity with your staff. Innovative yet cost-saving, universal design allows more people with disabilities to be effective and engaged team members.

Universal access "cuts costs, builds capacity and makes life accessible for everyone," further promoting inclusivity and showing your concern to bring eLearning to everyone. Along with the benefit of working towards accessible or usable designed eLearning products or course content, universal design accounts for all human characteristics to be considered, including age, gender, stature, race/ethnicity, culture, language, and learning preference.

Universal access "cuts costs, builds capacity and makes life accessible for everyone," further promoting inclusivity and showing your concern to bring eLearning to everyone.

Make universal design part of the goal of your eLearning content

Instead of adapting the LMS or materials afterward, it saves money by ensuring the course design already includes accessibility options. Universal design consolidates everyone's abilities from the beginning and promotes inclusivity with your staff. Innovative yet cost-saving, universal design allows more people with disabilities to be effective and engaged team members. 

Training Software Accessibility

As part of a holistic approach, companies need to ensure all aspects of the eLearning ecosystem maintain accessibility for every learner. This includes the products delivering the training – whether it be through an LMS or on a specialized training platform, such as a microlearning platform.

Ask your vendor during the product demo to ensure your LMS and training platform meet eLearning accessibility requirements.  If you’re already using a platform for training, surface your accessibility questions on the vendor’s website, social media channels, or through other points of contact,  such as a support inquiry or chatbot. 

Furthermore, as part of your quest for eLearning accessibility, consider the training delivery method as part of the accessibility equation. For instance, microlearning capabilities (short bursts of content vs. long-form content) delivered in a mobile-friendly interface give learners the chance to engage with the content from different devices that suit their needs, like a tablet.  

eLearning Course Accessibility

There is likely a lot of overlap between the training platform and the eLearning course, but it’s an important distinction. Chances are, your organization is going to have more granular control over how accessible your course material is, especially if it’s developed in-house by your team of training administrators or instructional designers. However, the principles remain constant and true. When reviewing your eLearning accessibility checklist, ensure the training material is delivered with every learner in mind. Training content comes in many forms, and each lesson needs to be accessible no matter who is taking the course.  Some examples are:

  • Audio may be suitable for some learners, but providing written transcripts and video content (with closed-captioning options) gives everyone the chance to absorb the content in the best possible format for their learning needs.
  • Things that could hamper learning include timers, flashing, bouncing, or auto-scrolling content, or not using content differentiators like headings and sub-headings. If your LMS includes those options, to make it an accessible eLearning course, ensure that any of those features can be turned off or adjusted by the learner. 
  • Colors can be a critical factor in microlearning accessibility. High-contrast color options offer great options for your learners. Use a contrast checking tool to check your color preferences.

Lastly, while your content needs to be clear and concise, it needs to be logically organized and use small, focused chunks. Considering these factors for your LMS accessibility will improve the overall course design and make it a more user-friendly, engaging experience for all learners

Review for accessibility before you launch

Before launching your courses, always test and review how accessible it is. The testing process can include using vendors to test the course product itself and service companies to test the course content. Plus, there is no better test than your team members going through the LMS and training material with fresh eyes. DIY testing can find bugs, encourage engagement, and raise awareness for both you and the testers. Looking at the course material with an eye on how accessible it is will allow you to tweak the LMS and ensure it is an accessible learning management system for every user. 

While it may seem a lot to invest, both financially and in human capital, to investigate accessible eLearning options, the benefits far outweigh those factors. First, get things set up correctly by working with expert vendors that understand accessibility and best practices for inclusive design and web development. Experts on accessibility standards provide the progressive enhancement of software, tools, and interactivity, plus the planning and storyboarding of content to ensure it meets the eLearning accessibility standards and your course training goals.

Are you looking for a partner in eLearning accessibility?

Our full-service approach saves you time and avoids the hassle of working with multiple vendors or creating the content internally while managing your LMS software. 

If you’re ready to discuss eLearning accessibility, whether you’re looking for improvements to existing content or a complete overhaul, or if you need to move to a training platform that delivers accessible training to all your employees – contact our experts today!

Smiling woman with short, dark hair in a black, V-neck shirt.
Ashleigh Lodge

Ashleigh is the Application Development Manager at Neovation and an advocate for accessibility and inclusive design. With over 12 years of development and management experience she loves being a part of the community and sharing knowledge and experiences.

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