E-learning and accessibility: Make it easy!

Yes, you can combine e-learning and accessibility, and it is easier than you think! Find out how!
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Natalia De la Peña Frade

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8 minutes

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October 4, 2023

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When you’re designing your amazing learning experiences and creating engaging online training, do you ever stop to think about the accessibility of your courses and materials? 

If you’re not sure how to answer this question, stay right here and read on. Making your e-learning courses accessible to everyone is crucial to offering an inclusive learning experience, and not closing any doors for yourself. Did you know that 15% of the world’s population has some kind of disability? 

The more people who can access your content, the better. What’s more, there are laws on accessibility that vary from country to country, which we’ll touch on later in the post. Find out if they affect you and also how to improve the accessibility of your e-learning. It’s really not as complicated as you might think. Read on and you’ll see.

What is accessibility in e-learning?

E-learning accessibility means making online courses that are easy to use for everyone. It means ensuring that the design is universal, or in other words that navigation through the learning materials and their comprehension are possible for all learners, regardless of their abilities. 

And although this makes perfect sense and sounds ideal, unfortunately we’re still a long way off making it a reality. There are training, information, and entertainment resources that people with disabilities cannot access, both in the online and offline world. It’s not fair. 

Online content creators may not be able to do anything to improve accessibility in the offline world, but we must work toward making sure that no one is left behind, and that the resources we offer are inclusive. 

This is especially important when it comes to training content. Let’s not forget that education is a universal right, as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. I’m sure you agree with this principle, right? So, let’s see how to make it a reality in the online world!

The 4 principles of accessible websites

A little theory to kick us off: According to the WCAG, (the web content accessibility guidelines guide published by the World Wide Web Consortium), there are 4 conditions which must be met in order for a website to be accessible: it must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. I’ll explain what each one means:

  1. Perceivable refers to displaying information in such a way that everyone who visits the website can perceive it. It includes measures such as optimizing readability or providing alternative texts and descriptions. 
  2. Operable means that navigation must be possible in different ways, not only using the mouse, but also using the keyboard or voice commands. Furthermore, if a time is set for reading and using the content, it must be sufficient for everyone.
  3. Understandable refers to the need for both the content and operations on the site to be easy for anyone.
  4. Robust means that content must be interpretable by different tools, such as braille readers, text-to-speech transcription tools, magnifying glasses for enlarging screens, etc.

And how is this achieved? Well, you need to follow a series of guidelines that we will look at a little later in the post. But first, let’s talk about the regulations that deal with web accessibility.

Accessibility laws that affect your e-learning

Accessibility is not just an ethical obligation, but also a legal one. It’s time to ask yourself if your online courses comply with your country’s accessibility laws!  

For example, in the United States, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) laws and section 508, an amendment to the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973, apply. While the first prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, section 508 specifically refers to accessibility on websites and resources that federal agencies make available to citizens through the use of technology.  

Whether you offer online training to federal agencies or your e-learning courses are federally funded, you need to review the 508 compliance guide. The ADA law is also mandatory for all websites, which must follow the WCAG 3 web content accessibility guidelines.

In most countries in the rest of the world (with some exceptions), accessibility laws only affect public administration websites. This is the case in Argentina and also in the European Union, where the law EN 301549 applies, which all ICT products and services must comply with, but which applies only to the public sector. 

So if my website is private and privately funded, can I opt out of accessibility? No! 

Although there is no specific law that requires us to adopt accessibility measures on private websites, we can always apply human rights and universal laws against discrimination and in favor of equal opportunities

Different types of disabilities 

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about disability? Most likely, if you know someone with a disability, you’ll think of them. That’s why it’s always good to remember that disability can present itself in very different ways. This helped me empathize and better understand the accessibility standards that need to be applied.

According to the WHO, disability is a term that covers different personal situations, which generally hinder their full participation in society, preventing equal opportunities. The WHO has also defined 4 types of disability:

  • Physical or motor disability, which reduces people’s ability to move.
  • Sensory disability, which reduces or eliminates the ability to see, hear, communicate, or use language.
  • Intellectual disability, which limits people’s ability to acquire everyday skills.
  • Mental disability, related to emotional or cognitive impairments. 

Making your e-learning content accessible involves considering all these realities. And, although no two people are the same, you can reach most of them with your content if you follow the WCAG Level AA standards, which is the most used guide in the world.

How can we create accessible e-learning courses?

The AA level is the one required by European Law EN 301549, and is also the advisable level for e-learning if you are outside the EU. These are some of the guidelines to follow to meet this level:

  • Provide alternative text (alt text) for all non-textual content (images, audio, video); in other words, add descriptions of each visual element. Screen readers need this text to describe the content to users.
  • Do not communicate information that can only be perceived through color. You also need to use text, symbols, or other means. Screen readers do not report screen color. Additionally, some people may have difficulty distinguishing colors. 
  • Add subtitles and transcriptions to videos and audios. Subtitles enable people who are deaf or hard of hearing to access the content. And transcripts are helpful for people who can’t hear the audio.
  • Choose a simple design, without unnecessary elements. Menus and navigation should be consistent and easy to operate on any screen, in portrait and landscape orientation. Buttons and links must include descriptive labels.
  • Optimize the readability of texts, with easy-to-read fonts and good-sized letters. Furthermore, the contrast between the color of the font and the color of the background must be sufficient.
  • Make content keyboard navigable. Many people with mobility disabilities do not use a mouse to navigate.
  • If your website includes forms, they must be accessible, that is, include clear instructions and an error indicator.

By now, you’re probably wondering whether or not your website is accessible. Why not check? There are free online tools to audit the accessibility of your website like this one or this one. You can also download and install NVDA, which is a free screen reader, to observe how people who use these types of tools access content.

Practical tips for creating accessible e-learning courses 

Accessibility doesn’t just depend on the technology and tools you use. In these tips for creating accessible courses you’ll also find some recommendations to take into account when designing your training content.

Clear and logical organization

The structure of your course should be simple, coherent, and easy to navigate. Include a table of contents that allows you to go directly to any lesson or module.

This is fundamental: use headings (H1, H2, H3) to separate sections and topics. Did you know that using title categories properly helps people with visual impairments understand the structure of the content? It is part of the information that screen readers communicate aloud. 

Clear and simple language

Write in simple, concise, and easy-to-understand language for a basic reading level. Use short phrases and commonly used vocabulary, avoiding technical jargon. When necessary, add explanations. 

Content access options

Try to offer different options so that everyone can access the content in the way that is most comfortable for them. The accessibility principle of always adding subtitles to your videos and transcriptions of your audios is emphasized here. You can create these transcripts manually or using an automated service such as YouTube, Amara, or 3Play Media.

It is also important for people to be able to activate reading mode (text only) and to change the font size, color contrast, spacing, etc. Most browsers include these options in their accessibility settings, but you can add a plugin to your website to improve them or allow your audience to access them in one simple click. 

Want to make it perfect? Include sign language in your videos too.

Accessible activities and assessments

Check that the activities, questionnaires, and other interactive elements can be completed by anyone. For example:

  • Offer more time to respond or the ability to pause timers.
  • Include clear instructions, in simple language and with examples.
  • Use buttons, text boxes, and other controls that are easy to interact with.
  • Make sure your content supports the use of assistive technologies such as screen readers.

Following these recommendations will help you create a truly inclusive and accessible online course for everyone. Your audience will thank you!

Create accessible content for your e-learning courses with Genially

Making the content you create with Genially accessible is very easy. For starters, your audience doesn’t need to use the mouse to see your creations. With the navigation keys on their keyboard, and the Tab and Enter keys, they can browse all the pages and content included. Plus, in Genially you can do all of this:

  • Customize the fonts, font size, spacing, font color, and background color of your creations
  • Add alt text to your images and resources
  • Add titles and descriptions to your tables and graphs 
  • Add destination descriptions for each link
  • Assign hierarchies to the headings and texts of your creation
  • Add tooltips and interactive windows with audio transcriptions, instructions, or additional explanations 
  • Add audios to offer an alternative to visual information
  • Add menus and buttons wherever you need to
  • Arrange elements so that the screen reader reads the alt texts in the proper order
  • Apply full-screen interactivity to any element to allow viewers to see it up close

Follow the guidelines in this tutorial to learn how to make your geniallys more accessible. That way you can improve the accessibility of your e-learning content, and provide an inclusive learning experience for all your students.

Implementing accessibility best practices may require extra effort, but the benefits are enormous. Remember, accessibility is a journey, not a destination. Your commitment to it will allow you to continue learning, and keep improving.

Continue to listen to your students and the rest of your team, and email us at support@genially.com if you spot any accessibility issues in Genially. Together we can make e-learning an open and inclusive learning experience. Let’s get to work!

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Natalia De la Peña Frade
Content creator: I try to write things you like to read

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