6 ways to improve accessibility in elearning

Posted on Apr 02, 2015


Elearning accessibility is about reaching everyone in the workforce so no one misses out on training opportunities. Organisations also have a legal duty to make ‘reasonable’ adjustments to ensure online content is accessible for people with disabilities.

With no specific industry guidelines for elearning accessibility, standards can vary greatly but there are some straightforward ways to make elearning courses work for all employees.

It’s estimated that around 20.8% of the working age population in the UK has a disability – that’s more than 8 million people. So if elearning is not designed with accessibility in mind, it is rendered useless for around a fifth of the workforce. It’s a compelling business argument for embracing accessibility in elearning, aside from the legal and moral responsibilities of employers.

Here are six basic principles to consider when making an elearning course accessible:

  • Ensure your course can be accessed using only a keyboard

Visually impaired learners will often access the course using a screen reader and keyboard. This means the course needs a logical sequence and all menus, interactions and buttons should be accessible using only a keyboard. Avoid dropdown menus as screen readers will interpret them as one object.

  • Use HTML heading tags correctly

Screen readers can identify HTML tags and use them as navigational aids so headings should be created using the HTML tags (H1, H2, H3 etc.) rather than just being styled to look like headings. Likewise, buttons like ‘menu’, ‘next’ and ‘back’, should be coded using the HTML button tag so screen reader users can use their keyboard to navigate through available options.

  • Provide transcripts or captions for video and audio content

All video and audio content needs a text transcript for learners unable to access the original media. Plain HTML text and PDFs are generally best for screen reading.

  • Ensure your content has good colour contrast

To make content accessible for visually impaired and colour blind learners, there needs to be a good contrast between foreground and background colours. Elements with poor contrast can be very difficult to read for anyone with poor vision. Also, remember to not use colour alone to convey information, for example by asking learners to click on the green button.

  • Create ALT tags to describe each image or diagram

Photographs, illustrations and icons need to be described using ALT text. ALT tags provide a description of what is shown in the image to be read out by screen readers.

  • Use inclusive language

Try not to use instructions like ‘Click the button to continue’ as in reality that may not be the way in which a learner with a disability moves through the course.

These tips cover only the basics, and there is plenty more information available to help organisations and elearning designers create accessible elearning.

The charity, AbilityNet has some very useful factsheets and World Wide Web Consortium develops open standards for web content, much of which is useful for elearning.

Finally, as the elearning industry matures, perhaps it is time for collective agreement and a specific set of standards for best practice when it comes to accessibility. It would be great to hear your thoughts on the subject.

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