E-learning and accessibility – what do you need to consider?

  • Author: Natalie Collins
  • Date: 24 Mar 2016

E-learning content is an effective way of skilling up large distributed teams and allows people to learn at a time and location convenient for them.

Content delivered through web-based e-learning systems is still required to meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. Therefore, if you’re considering the leap to e-learning, or simply updating module content in your Learning Management System (LMS), you should read this first!

Delivery in an online environment can have many advantages, but when it comes to using technology, and considering all your users, there are a number of factors that you need to consider:

  • Does the audience for your material include people with a disability?
  • Is your content static, or is it interactive?
  • Which technology or platform should you use?
  • Which policies or laws do you need to meet, such as the Digital Service Standard or your own organisation’s Disability Inclusion Plan?

We’ve helped many organisations. To assist you with your e-learning journey, we’ve put together five things you should consider to make sure your e-learning content is accessible.

1. Make sure the platform you’re using is accessible

It’s great that you’re factoring in accessibility into your content. But if the platform you’re using to host the content is inaccessible, then the work you’ve just completed is redundant.

2. Don’t put restrictions around the technology you use

We don’t all use just one version of one browser, or one specific brand of technology. We use many different types of technology (desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile), and the same principle is extended to assistive technologies. Some only work with particular operating systems (Windows and not Apple); some will work better with different browsers over others. If you’re creating an online learning environment of any kind, don’t limit its use to specific technologies.

3. Consider the types of content that you’re publishing

If you’re creating e-learning content it’s natural to want to make your content engaging and perhaps interactive. Making your content accessible doesn’t mean you need to cut out functionality. For each different type of content that you have, make sure you consider accessibility in each way:

  • Screens of images – Make sure all images include alternative text. If you’re including an image such as an infographic, make sure there is a full-length text alternative in another location, as most screen readers will often not read out the full alternative text if it is more than 140 characters
  • Videos – Include captions within the video (either as open captions within the video itself, or make sure there is an option to turn on captions in the media player that you’re using). A transcript and audio description (AD) should also be included with the video, so that users who cannot see visual content can have all information communicated to them
  • Quizzes / Activities – Make sure that everything is correctly labelled (including buttons) so that screen reader users know how to correctly interact with the activity that you’ve created. Don’t use ‘drag and drop’ exercises; they are really difficult for users with low vision, arthritis and other dexterity issues to use.
  • Audio-only content – Include a transcript so that users who are Deaf or have a hearing impairment can read information they may not be able to hear by including audio-only content.

Not considering accessibility amongst all of these variables increases the risk that any person with a disability will not be able to access all of your content.

4. Share the love – accessibility shouldn’t be designated to just one person

If you’re working on a major online learning project, chances are you’re not the only person who is. Although people may have different responsibilities, everyone has a role to play in making sure that their work is accessible.

  • Developers – Any person working on the development of the platform itself should be across the technical elements of accessibility, such as making sure that navigation is consistent, that users can navigate through content correctly and make sure that there are no unexpected (and incorrect) technical issues
  • Designers – The design of content and branding can also have an impact on accessibility. Designers should work to make sure they meet colour contrast accessibility requirements, that text included is big enough to be read, and that the layout of content can be easily understood
  • Content authors – Any person who writes content can often make it inaccessible without even realising it, but these accessibility issues can often be amongst the easiest to fix. Make sure that every page you upload has a title, that there are no exposed links, and that things such as images and tables have been uploaded correctly (with alternatives included wherever it is appropriate).

Leaving accessibility to the end when producing content can often result in content being rewritten or redesigned, and can take up both time and resourcing that you weren’t necessarily expecting it to.

5. Include an accessibility statement

Whether it is two screens or two hundred, make sure you include an accessibility statement with your e-learning content, especially if your content is compliant with WCAG 2.0 AA.

Your accessibility statement is an excellent way to communicate how people with disabilities can best navigate your e-learning content.   If you experience small issues with your content (such as content not appearing as it should in one browser, but it does in all of the others), that can be okay. Not all browsers and assistive technologies are created in the same way, so you may come across the occasional minor issue.

Users who have a disability will often look for an accessibility statement first, so that they can understand how to navigate through your content. If you think there’s a better way for users to navigate through your content, or you think they’ll come across something that’s not quite right, include it in your accessibility statement. Consider our guidance on what to include in an accessibility statement

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

There’s often a lot to think about when it comes to e-learning and accessibility, and it’s ok not to have all the answers straight away. The Digital Accessibility Services team at Media Access Australia have helped many organisations implement e-learning content, so we know what you need to consider, and can help you every step of the way. You can find out more about our web accessibility audit and testing process. Contact us if you have any questions; we’re happy to provide you with any further information you need on making your e-learning content accessible.