In my post, Looking Ahead at Web Accessibility, I touched on the reasons why eLearning should be designed with accessibility in mind. I’m not going to preach why we should do it. I’m going to assume we’re all going to do it and get right to the how to go about it stuff. (If you’re still not convinced, check out this blog by CourseAvenue.)
I’m also going to assume that everyone, regardless of disability, deserves and expects the experience of GREAT eLearning. So, let’s start* with the Five Basic Things to consider when designing for web accessibility:
Will this add value to the students’ learning experience? Without it, many students will receive no value, so yes; web accessibility adds value for those who would otherwise not be able to take the eLearning course. But the best part is the serendipitous nature of building for accessibility: it will likely add value for everyone.
The thought process of how each word, image, or feature you create will be taken in by this broader audience will enhance your understanding and connection with all of your students. Many of the practices — such as careful outlining and more descriptive alternate text — will add to the experiences of all.
Do I have the skill? I think skill is less important than awareness and consideration. Educate yourself on the issues. Review examples of how a simple change can make a huge difference to someone with a disability. The most comprehensive site on the subject that I have found is WebAim.org. If you feel that you still need to understand it better, they offer training in accessibility for both designers and administrators.
What are the options? The options range from free to costly, from software to hardware, and from designed-in to user-controlled. For instance, ReadSpeaker is a plug-in for applications such as WordPress; the user has only to click “listen” to launch it. JAWS is user-installed software that enables key stroke commands and Braille outputs. Other applications, such as captioning, require the designer to add that feature at the creation stage.
I will be reviewing these options — and many more — in upcoming posts on specific features. The first will be on web accessibility as it applies to text and images.
How much functionality do you need from this tool? If this were a game show and you were asked to name the disabilities that could restrict access to web content, you’d probably shout out “visual impairment” without any thought. But did you realize that color blindness is also a visual impairment? What would your second answer be? Many people think that because the web is written, deafness isn’t a problem. In my previous post, I mentioned that many people are including voice that explains their content; without it, the content is meaningless. WebAim.org gathers data on how many informational sites bury their content in videos. Don’t make the same mistake with your eLearning.
The answer to how much functionality is needed: You should consider whether your eLearning audience will include those who have any form of vision impairment, have difficulty hearing, have limited motor skills, as well as the possibility of cognitive disabilities or the chance of seizures triggered by your cool fireworks flash. Designing with these disabilities in mind will improve the quality of your content for everyone; even those of us without clinically diagnosed memory disorders appreciate intuitive content and navigation.
Will this tool work within my LMS? Your LMS itself should be web accessible, so your concern is with making your content web accessible. An organized, well-designed layout will work anywhere. Plugins, such as ReadSpeaker, will work in specified applications only. Still others will have nothing to do with your LMS because the applications will be on the user-end (you’ll still have to design your content so it works with those applications.)
*Stay tuned for the next posts in this series on how web accessibility applies to the Features of GREAT eLearning:
- Web Accessibility Issues and Options: Text and Images
- Web Accessibility Issues and Options: Forms and Navigation
- Web Accessibility Issues and Options: Links and Documents
- Web Accessibility Issues and Options: Audio, Video, Flash, and Games