Accessibility design in eLearning is not about focusing on disabilities, it is about focussing on abilities; people’s natural ability to enjoy, like and adopt good accessible design. It is about being aware that your audience will react better if you design with them in mind, because a good accessible design makes the learners want to engage through intrinsic motivation. A good accessible design is effective and efficient in fulfilling its purpose. Accessibility for the widest possible audience is not achieved through just compliance to accessibility guidelines, but also by deploying in HTML, choosing Responsive Design, avoiding plugins and custom apps and making content available in the languages of your learners.
Accessibility design in eLearning is aesthetic and intuitive
The aesthetic quality of a course is integral to its usefulness because learners are people and subject to natural likes and dislikes. Intuitive design explains itself and makes a user-manual unnecessary. Accessibility design in eLearning is not just “what looks good” or “what meets the needs of particular disability groups”, it should also teach, assess, interest, convert, astonish, and fulfill its purpose. Not being “accessible” looks like being disinterested or unwelcoming, and may damage the relationship between course and learner. A good design has an inherent power of being able to fascinate and immediately appeals to its users senses. Then it is accessible.
Accessibility design in eLearning is always in a state of flux
If the measure of the need for innovation were ‘Moore’s Law’ (where processing power doubles every 18 months), we should have a new generation of eLearning products every few years. We do not, so most eLearning software is using comparatively old technology. Innovative design normally develops in tandem with new innovative technology, and whilst it can never be an end in itself, when a new technology hits the mass market it can make material built for old technology obsolete.
Accessibility design in eLearning works on all devices
With the proliferation of new devices from phone and pads to laptops with competing operating systems, everyone can use their device for eLearning. In the light of this, it is surprising to find how many major eLearning tools rely on old technology, for instance Articulate Storyline are using flash as the default on its online publishing platform, which most devices do not support. Even Adobe are committed to adopting HTML5 technology over flash for elearning. There are a whole range of things to avoid so that your eLearning will work on every device; plugins, custom apps, flash, unity and anything else requiring a download and install. Designing for touch and mouse+keyboard devices makes eLearning more accessible. If you keep to HTML5, you will be starting on the right path.
Accessibility design in eLearning uses Responsive Design
Responsive Design is is about crafting websites for ease of navigation and reading on a wide range of devices, monitor and screen ratios, without needing the user to resize or pan and scroll. Responsive design has already been widely accepted as the future of web design because it makes life so much easier for today’s multi platform user.
Accessibility design in eLearning is not universal
There is a big gap between accessibility standards for the web (that all talk about HTML tags etc) and elearning tools that have been born, not out of HTML, but forced to adapt to output it due to audience demand. The language and features in most elearning tools do not use the same as standards recommended by W3.org and elearning professionals are left unsupported in linking the two together because;
Accessibility design in eLearning is not a common standard
There is a lack of eLearning accessibility terminology or standards, most tool providers quote web accessibility standards and terminology. These are great if you are a web developer, but it puts a burden on learning designers to try to understand HTML standards and then attempt to apply them to elearning tools and terminology.
Here is a quick explanation of the standards
- Australian standards WCAG 2.0 http://webguide.gov.au/accessibility-usability/accessibility/
- Web Accessibility Initiative http://www.w3.org/WAI/
- Web Content Authoring Tools – The Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) 2.0 http://www.w3.org/TR/ATAG20/
- Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) 1.1 http://www.w3.org/TR/wai-aria/
These are the general Internet guidelines, what is needed is a ‘map’ between the HTML guidelines and the language used in popular elearning authoring tools and LMS’s.
Future elearning tools will need to meet the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) 2.0, so the ability to author elearning is available to all.
At the same time elearning content published by tools will need to meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) and for interactive content Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) will need to be met.
Accessibility design in eLearning needs careful research
Some eLearning programs have extra accessibility features, which may be found by a careful view of the manuals and website. As shown above, there are areas where a decision to go with an outdated software can be expensive. Expertise, care, diligence and close examination of the manuals is required to stay ahead in this fast moving and exciting field.
Ideally an elearning standard would exist that lists accessibility features supported by common elearning authoring tools so you can know that if you have done X in your tool it has covered guideline Y for html accessibility. To assist we have provided a few links to popular tools where their accessibility features are described:
Articulate Storyline 2 https://www.articulate.com/products/storyline-wcag.php
Responsive Design http://www.chatmapper.com/responsive-design-with-chat-mapper/
and Accessibility Features http://www.chatmapper.com/chat-mapper-accessibility-features/
Accessibility Features http://responsivevoice.org/responsivevoice-accessibility-features/
for Articulate and Captivate http://responsivevoice.com/elearning-software/
Accessibility design in eLearning needs to speak your language
If you have learning audiences who speak different languages, tailoring learning languages can make your content far more accessible. This can seem like a daunting and expensive task, however translation services and some powerful elearning tools make this easy to do and to maintain. There are two popular ways to produce multilanguage learning, a single course package that can instantly switch between languages, or publishing the same course in different languages (one package per language). Single course packages are the easier to maintain. Typically you export content to spreadsheets to be sent to translators then re-import the spreadsheet into your tool with all translations applied to elearning elements.
Single Course with multiple languages
Adobe Captivate does have some support however it does not support multilanguage for TOC/Playbar and quizzes or closed captions http://blogs.adobe.com/captivate/2011/12/multiple-language-options-in-a-single-course-with-adobe-captivate-5-5.html
Chat Mapper supports multiple languages in one scenario, including dialogues, choices, closed captions and spoken language as text to speech or audio.
Multiple Courses with one Package for each Language
Articulate Storyline has some work arounds to achieve multi-language https://community.articulate.com/series/4/articles/translating-articulate-storyline-content
Accessibility design in eLearning extras
There are a lot of things that can be done to give your eLearning design something more. For example
- The use of audio and captions,
- Contrasting colors such as Google’s ‘Material Design Framework’ https://www.materialpalette.com/
- The ability to adjust the font size
- Writing well with good ‘readability’
- Videos with captions
- Well marked and descriptive links and
- Interactions with element descriptions
It is easy to see that by applying good design you will also be achieving great accessibility. There is a challenge though, with the rise of, and the proven effectiveness of highly interactive elearning, it will become more and more about how to employ the richness of rapidly advancing technology driven experiences while balancing the widest audience accessibility.