Accessibility can help you reach all your learners and even comply with the law. Here’s why, to what level, and how to make it more accessible.
Does your eLearning content need to be accessible?
The term “accessibility” has become more pronounced in recent years, especially as it pertains to online content. Organizations and people are inquiring about or requesting web accessibility more and more. Often these conversations revolve around public-facing websites.
But should your eLearning content, whether for internal employees or paid subscribers, also be accessible? The short answer is likely, yes. Most importantly, accessibility can help you reach all of your learners. And secondly, it can actually help you comply with the law.
Here’s why your online learning content needs to be accessible, what standard of accessibility your content needs to be, and how to make your content more accessible.
What is accessibility?
When we think about accessibility online, we’re more specifically talking about web accessibility. Accessibility is the practice of designing websites and other online content in a way that they can be used by, and accessible to, all people.
Most often, accessibility refers to making these materials accessible to people with impairments. In essence, accessibility provides persons with disabilities equal access to learning materials.
Why your eLearning content needs to be accessible
1. One out of four adults is disabled. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 26%, or one in four American adults, has at least one disability. Making your learning management system accessible means more people or employees can use and learn from your educational courses.
2. Accessibility enhances the user experience for everyone. Accessible learning content benefits everyone, not just those with a disability. By making content easy to interact with, comprehend, and navigate, you enhance the educational experience for all learners.
3. Accessibility is required by law: Though this should not be the driving force behind the reason to make your educational content accessible, it is important to know that accessibility is a requirement by law.
Accessibility laws vary by country. In the U.S., according to certain provisions within the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), web accessibility, including mobile applications, is a requirement for all federal entities, partially-funded federal organizations, and private companies. There are documented cases of organizations, big and small, that have been sued for not meeting web accessibility standards.
While these provisions have typically been applied to external, public-facing websites, ADA covers employment regulations for persons with disabilities as well. That means internal websites and electronic materials used by employees may need to be compliant with accessibility laws as well. Though this has yet to be determined.
How to measure accessibility
Most governments follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), an internationally accepted set of digital accessibility guidelines, to determine compliance with accessibility.
The WCAG is currently in Version 2.1, but it is possible to still comply with the older version 2.0. A new version, WCAG 2.3, is set to come out in April 2023. The WCAG has three levels: A, AA, AA.
A: is the minimum level and has 30 requirements. It is the easiest level to meet since it is mostly about usability. An example is the requirement to have captions for recorded audio and video content.
AA is the medium level and has 20 additional success criteria than A. An example is the requirement that you can’t use images of text except when uploading logos. Only text is allowed so that assistive technologies such as screen readers can relay information effectively.
Many organizations prefer this level since it ensures that content is understandable, operable, and suited for visually and hearing-impaired learners.
AAA is the highest level and comes with an additional 28 success criteria on top of what A and AA already have. It is mostly preferred by organizations specializing in accessibility. For instance, it may require sign language interpretation for audio.
Website accessibility standards, or the WCAG, break down into these four basic principles:
- Perceivable: The content and user interface elements must be designed in ways that all users can perceive it. In other words, it shouldn’t be invisible to their senses.
- Operable: The navigation and user interface components must be easy to operate.
- Understandable: The information presented and user interface navigation must be well-understood by the users.
- Robust: The content must be robust enough that it can reliably be interpreted by a wide range of assistive technologies.
What accessibility standard should your eLearning content meet
This will first depend on your country’s laws. Some countries require a level of compliance, while others may make accessibility a legal requirement but not specify to what level.
For instance, U.S. law requires that websites and applications be accessible, but it does not specify to what level. On the other hand, Canada legally requires both web accessibility and a specific level of compliance. In either instance, most governments will follow the WCAG to determine compliance.
Again, in the U.S., WCAG compliance is not technically legally required, but it is what the government generally uses to evaluate accessibility. That means though the WCAG is not something you must legally comply with, it does provide general guidelines that ensure an adequate level of accessibility.
It’s also what legislators will likely use to evaluate an organization’s accessibility, if in question.
Nearly all organizations will need to meet the WCAG AA standard. Level A is often not adequate enough, and level AAA is generally reserved for organizations specializing in accessibility.
Accessibility vs. usability: what’s the difference?
Accessibility and usability are sometimes confused or conflated. Web accessibility allows people living with disabilities to navigate, perceive, understand, and interact with online learning tools. Accessibility also allows them to equally contribute and collaborate with their peers.
On the other hand, usability refers to web products that are efficient, effective, and satisfying to the end user. User experience, for instance, is an element of usability. A good user experience can be a website that is easy to navigate. While good for users and customers, it might not allow disabled individuals to interact with the website, creating poor accessibility.
How to make your eLearning content accessible
Structure, organize, and make content clear
How your content is structured and organized in the underlying markup of your website, or HTML, is different from how it is displayed on the web. Screen readers usually read the markup and not the information displayed on the screen.
Learning HTML is a plus for every instructional designer and content creator. When marking up your site with HTML, structure and organization are extremely important. You can create organized, clear content by:
- Marking headings according to H1, H2, H3, and H4 to create a clear hierarchy on the page.
- Using bold letters to communicate importance and italics to depict emphasis, as opposed to highlighting text.
- Using numbered lists and bullets instead of adding hyphens and other characters to manually mark up lists.
- Only using tables to present data and not using them to style content.
Use colors that provide maximum contrast
- Use colors with maximum contrast, so that text and images are visible to anyone with impaired vision or color deficiencies.
- Avoid using only color to distinguish interactive content. Users with color deficiencies might have difficulties discerning content. Instead, use hyperlinks and asterisks in conjunction with color to signal interactions.
- Red-green is the most common color deficiency in color-blind users. Try avoiding these colors together.
Use alternative text
Alternative text, or alt text, is additional text that describes multimedia content and its purpose. For example, video, audio, and images all need alt text. To use alt text:
- Add captions to videos that transcribe the audio.
- Always use alt tags for images to describe what they depict.
- Label inputs for forms so screen readers can distinguish form fields.
Consider keyboard-only navigation
- Mobility-impaired and vision-impaired users may need content to be accessible through keyboard-only navigation. Consider making content that is accessible through a keyboard only.
An LMS meets accessibility requirements so you can reach all your learners
Tovuti is an accessible learning management system that meets Web Content Accessibility (WCAG) Guidelines 2.0 Level A and AA as well as Section 508 standards. Tovuti is accessible through screen readers, and administrators can make videos and images accessible without the need for HTML.
Tovuti also offers a high color contrast ratio for people who are colorblind. And we have keyboard-only navigation throughout most parts of our system. That means you can not only reach all your learners with your content but also provide them with the same great gamification and social learning features Tovuti is known for, making learning fun and easy.