Accessibility is an issue all course content designers encounter. When you’re making content that’s going to reach hundreds or even thousands of learners in educational and workplace settings, you’re bound to encounter those who need your content to be accessible in ways you may not have considered before. One of those “not a problem ‘til it’s a problem” sorts of things.
But what if accessibility didn’t have to be a problem in the first place? What if your content, your learning management system (LMS), your lesson plan, was all accessible and easy to use from launch, without sacrificing aesthetics or usability for other learners?
Certain things, like an LMS that keeps eLearning accessibility in mind, can be a great first step. Moodle and Blackboard have both been considered more-accessible systems than others. But your content needs to be designed in such a way that anyone can use it. Here’s how to approach your course design so every user gets the most from your content, no special separate lessons required.
eLearning Accessibility for mobility and photosensitivity issues
Some folks have a hard time using a mouse or a keyboard. And for people with light or motion-triggered seizures, using a computer can be a risky proposition. A little extra thought in the design process can make your content safer and easier to use for everyone.
- When using video, make sure that your media player can be played and paused with both the keyboard and the mouse. If you’re using a mouthstick, it’s much easier to hit the spacebar for a quick pause than to manipulate a mouse.
- Avoid flashing videos or .gifs. Images that flash very quickly or have a strobe-light effect can trigger photosensitive epilepsy.
- If you must use a flashing video or .gif (understandable, since you can’t always pick your content), consider putting it under a warning, separating the content with a read more tag, or making it opt-in so that you must click to view it. This helps anyone trying to avoid such images not get a nasty surprise.
- Make your links longer. They don’t need to take up a whole page, but making clickable link text at least one or two full words long helps people with fine motor skill issues click links with greater success.
As you can see, these changes don’t impact the content of the lesson or the overall LMS experience. These changes are small adjustments that make a huge difference for people who need them, but will also go unnoticed by those who aren’t looking for them.
eLearning accessibility for visual impairment
Most design tips for people with visual impairments have to do with crafting content that a screen reader can easily understand. Keeping screen readers in mind when designing your content will make a world of difference to those who use them.
- Consider your font choice and size. How annoying is it when someone uses an unreadable, chaotic font, or has their text and background in nearly identical colors? Now imagine if you had that feeling on most websites. Check out this primer on selecting visual-impairment-friendly typefaces. (Using an easily read font like Comic Sans is also helpful for users with dyslexia.)
- Use headings properly. The h1, h2, and h3 settings are all recognized by most screen readers, and headings are helpful for trying to navigate a page. (If you’re creating content on an open website and need to worry about search engines, headings are also great for SEO.)
- If you have images, offer alt text for all of them. Screen readers can’t describe an image, but they can read alt text that explains what the image is. Consult this handy page for more info on writing effective alt text.
- Eliminate drop-down lists wherever possible, since screen readers usually can’t catch them.
- Make your links as descriptive as possible. Rather than saying “click here,” explain what the link leads to. Again, being descriptive is great for SEO, if you’re so inclined.
- If you need to include a chart or a table, try to embed the chart itself, rather than using an image, since a screen reader will have an easier time explaining the chart than an image of the chart.
eLearning accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing
When considering audio files, videos, and games that use sound as a key component (all elements that tend to be viewed as a good use of multimedia), sound’s importance to many elearning courses compounds. As always, taking time and putting thought into your courses can make them far more accessible for people who might not have been able to engage with your materials before.
- Subtitle or caption all videos. Try to caption your custom content yourself rather than relying on a media player’s auto-caption, which may make confusing mistakes.
- Offer transcriptions of audio content. This can also be helpful for students who are accessing your content in a public space without headphones, or need to return to quickly reference your material.
- Provide multiple methods of contact. If you want your students to reach out to you or a help desk when they have problems, offer them multiple ways to do so. If you can only be reached by phone, you’re inadvertently cutting out people who cannot hear over the phone. Make email and instant messaging (aka live chat) routine options. Also consider adding a self-service option.
eLearning accessibility design is helpful for everyone
If you’re reading this and thinking that you should create one set of content that’s simplified for users with disabilities, and one set of “normal” content, stop.
Nobody wants to feel singled out, and creating a separate version of your content for people who need a little extra help or a different approach does just that. It’s offensive and shows a lack of thought. Furthermore, you’re only creating unnecessary work for yourself.
The most important thing to remember about accessible design is that a good accessible design can be used by everyone. By making your content disability-friendly, you take nothing away from someone without the disability. Accessible content can still be used as usual by someone who is not disabled. But it makes a world of difference to people who otherwise could not have used, or would have struggled to use, it.
Accessible design also helps people who don’t have disabilities, such as people who are dealing with the effects of aging, and those who are suffering from temporary injuries.
How do you incorporate accessible design?
Have you made strides to make your elearning content accessible for everyone? What methods did you use? What guidelines did you follow? Give me your lessons learned in the comments below, and subscribe to my mailing list for more information on elearning and training, every week.
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