Accessible Learning

You may have heard about accessibility in news stories related to the ADA or other legislation, but if you don’t require any assistive technologies yourself, you may have not given it a second thought…especially related to eLearning. I’m here to tell you that it’s time to think about it.

Let’s start with the “why.”  Why does eLearning need to be made accessible? There are three key reasons.  Accessible learning:

  • Protects your business
  • Enhances your business’ reputation and reach
  • Is good for learning

First – protecting your business. A lack of accessibility can lead to costly law suits. Just look at this list from accessibility expert Karl Groves. It contains large retail organizations, airlines, universities, internet service providers, banks, software companies, and even Netflix.

My point here is that accessibility isn’t something only government agencies need to worry about. The legal responsibility to provide accessible information and environments crosses lines of industry and company size. Many companies are great at providing “reasonable accommodation” as described in the Americans with Disabilities Act to their employees who require it on an individual basis, but this can be challenging to do with large employee populations or when creating learning for audiences where you may not know the abilities of each member like customers or the general public. Do you know if everyone who needs to access your learning can access and utilize it? Just like physical access to a building, there are legal requirements in place when it comes to access to learning.

Second – enhancing your business’ reputation and reach. I know I just used the fear of legal ramifications motivator in the previous paragraph, but here’s the good news – accessibility is also good for business. If individuals with disabilities can access the information and learning you’re providing, they could become customers…and they could tell others about you.

The same is true of employees and potential employees. Even employees who do not require accessibility accommodations will appreciate working for organizations where information is designed to be accessible for all individuals. Multiple thought leaders point to a sense of inclusion in work environments as being key to employee motivation and drive. And keep in mind that your target audience could include many who use assistive approaches to access information for situational or temporary reasons – for example: not having speakers to play audio or having an arm or wrist injury that prevents use of a mouse.

Providing eLearning that is accessible not only provides access to learning, it also sends a message about the organization that can impact reputation, reach, and engagement.

Third – Accessible design is good for learning. When you first wade into the accessibility standards like the Section 508 or WCAG 2.0 guidelines, the sheer number of standards can be overwhelming and seem like barriers.

With our experience designing and developing accessible eLearning courses, we’ve developed a process to design with accessibility in mind, rather that attempting to apply standards further down the road. Good learning is engaging because it takes advantage of multiple sensory modes of learning (visual, audio, reading) and accessible learning follows the same core approach. Are you considering visual, audio, reading, and navigation approaches to access your content when you design? If you do, you’ll find integrating accessibility into learning design can become a natural extension of the design process. I’m not saying it’s simple at first – and I’ll provide some tips in another blog about how to get started – but viewing accessibility as a key part of good learning design provides more than just accessibility, it results in great learning experiences for everyone.


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