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Accessibility in eLearning

Posted By: eCom USA

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Accessibility in eLearning is a hot topic here at eCom HQ and, with our recent work with our client the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), we have evolved our knowledge and understanding of web accessibility.  At eCom, we strive to ensure our eLearning meets the current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). At a time when more and more businesses and organisations are looking to take their training online, it is essential that we consider the needs of learners with disabilities and that we do not discriminate in any way. 

With the increasing demand for eLearning in the workplace, we share ten tips for creating accessible eLearning content:

1. Avoid Flash and use standards compliant HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript

As more and more users are using their mobile devices to access mLearning on the go, it is more important than ever that we avoid Flash. Flash is a proprietary software which relies on plugins to run in web browsers, and Apple has never supported Flash on its range of mobile devices. Add to that the fact that the technology is also being phased out on Android devices, then there is little reason to consider using Flash. Flash isn’t easy to use for users with disabilities and its support for assistive technologies is limited.  Nowadays, almost everything that could be achieved in Flash can now more easily be achieved using the open and accessible HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript technologies. These technologies work cross-platform, supporting all modern web browsers and mobile devices without any reliance on third party plugins.

2. Ensure your course can be accessed using only a keyboard

Many visually impaired users access web content using screen reader software and a keyboard. It is important to consider this when creating eLearning content. The courseware should have a logical tab order, and there should not be any keyboard traps preventing the user from effectively accessing a course. All menus, interactions and buttons should be accessible using only a keyboard.

3. Code content in a semantically correct way

In order to enable screen reader users to efficiently access content you should use semantically correct code. Headings should be created using the HTML heading tags (H1, H2, H3 etc.) and not simply styled to look like headings.  Likewise, menu, next and back buttons, for example, should be coded using the HTML button tag.  Doing so means that screen reader users can use the ‘B’ key on their keyboard to quickly navigate through all the available buttons.

4. Create a logical tab order

One of the areas which has been highlighted through our work with RNIB has been the importance of creating a logical tab order through the eLearning content. The tab order should take the user through the page in a way which makes sense. Selecting a new page from the menu should set the focus to the first heading in the refreshed content, and not reset the tab order back to the start of the page (i.e. should not read out the window title).

5. Do not use discriminatory language

One vital point to consider is the language used in your eLearning content. Using instructions like ‘Click the button to continue.’ assumes that the user can do just that, when in reality, your user may not use a mouse or may have a motor impairment.  This stands true for all web content – you should not rely on sensory characteristics.

6. Provide transcripts for video and audio content

Video and audio players should be keyboard friendly and all aspects of playback should be controllable without the need for a mouse. Your video and audio content should have text transcripts available, as not all users will be able to see the video. This can be provided in plain HTML text or as a PDF. We do not generally recommend using Word Documents as this relies on your users having access to the Word software.

7. Do not convey text using images

It is considered bad practice to convey text in images.  Where possible, use real text and style using CSS.  With CSS3 and web-fonts, there is no reason to use images for text.

8. Use ALT text appropriately

When using images, these should be described using ALT text. Images such as icons indicating information or diagrams should have ALT text.  These should not be verbose. Where images are simply for presentation purposes an empty ALT tag should be used. Images can also be described within the main body of text, in which case an empty ALT tag can be used.

9. Ensure your content has good colour contrast

In order for users to clearly read text there should be good contrast between your foreground and background colours. Buttons and text with poor contrast can be very difficult to read. WCAG level AA requires a minimum contrast of 4:5:1. There are free tools available on the internet to check your colour contrast. If eCom is working with you, we can advise on this during the design stage of your project.

10. Decide on a WCAG standard at the beginning of your project

The WCAG have three levels of accessibility: A, AA and AAA. We will always aim to meet the level of criteria which suits the need of your organisation. Most organisations will find that the AA criteria will meet their needs. The levels have varying degrees of accessibility and the time required to implement these standards will vary from project to project. The main thing is to be consistent with the level of standard you are applying.

eCom Scotland have been working with the RNIB to create a suite of eLearning modules to help carers better understand the needs of those visual impairments.  The range of topics include: Eye Anatomy; Learning Disability and Sight Loss; How to guide people with sight problems; Supporting Independence; Communication Matters; Inclusion, Independence and Legislation; and Feelings, Attitudes and Emotions. The courses will be used by a variety of organisations to support their staff who need to know about visual impairments when working with customers. 




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