Why is accessible learning content important?
Making our learning content accessible is undoubtedly something we need to get better at. For an industry which is so focused on giving people effective and empowering learning experiences, I’m often struck by how incomprehensible it is that the majority of the learning content we create continues to unnecessarily exclude people.
In most western countries, an estimated 12 to 26% of people live with permanent disabilities. Globally, it’s about 15% of the population. If you also include people with temporary and situational access needs, it adds up to a staggering number of learners who would benefit from accessible learning content.
Making our learning experiences accessible is undoubtedly a priority we all need to be acutely aware of. But if we only focus on making our content accessible, we’re in danger of falling into the same trap we have done for many years. This is what I call ‘tick-box accessibility’. It’s the equivalent of a person in a wheelchair being shown to their restaurant table via a dark alley with bins and smokers, through the kitchen and past the toilets, whilst their companions are welcomed through the front door – this is brilliantly explained in this video Accessibility vs Inclusion created by Esi Hardy. This is why we need to aim to make our learning content not only accessible, but also inclusive.
What is inclusive learning content?
Inclusive learning content provides a welcoming, engaging and enjoyable experience for everyone. This means creating learning:
- Where no one feels excluded or has a lesser experience than anyone else
- That uses language and imagery which includes all of our audience.
- With activities that are interactive and engaging for everyone, including people with access needs and who use assistive technology.
- That follows Universal Design for Learning principles and presents information and content in different ways, making it adaptable to a range of access needs, environments and circumstances.
- Which allows practitioners to become actively engaged in the process of creating more just and fair opportunities for everyone to learn.
But if we still aren’t even making our learning content accessible, how can we hope to create experiences which are truly inclusive? I’m convinced that one leads to the other.
I’ve noticed this not only in my own practice, but also increasingly with the many clients I work with who have realised the huge benefits of eLearning accessibility. The more people we train, the more audits we carry out, the more learning resources we help people to remediate, the more I’m convinced that creating inclusive learning is a natural progression from creating accessible learning.
Accessibility isn’t a trend, a gimmick, or the latest shiny thing. It’s a fundamental and transformational shift which puts learners at the centre of the experience. It makes practitioners challenge their assumptions and development decisions. It’s the closest thing to ‘unlearning’ and ‘relearning ‘everything you thought you knew about instructional design and development. It also promotes empathy, understanding and ultimately leads to better learning experiences for everyone.
How to get started with accessibility
It can seem overwhelming when you’re getting started with accessibility. This is especially so when you consider the fiercely technical Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which are the internationally recognised standards underpinning the majority of digital accessibility legislation.
My advice is to start small. Begin by learning more about the four digital access needs – vision, hearing, motor and cognitive – which you need to accommodate in your learning content. The next step is to make a micro-commitment to each of these in your next piece of learning. For example:
- For vision access needs: Use a colour contrast tool, like the WebAIM contrast checker, to make sure your text is clearly visible against the background.
- For hearing access needs: Add accurate and synchronised captions to all of the videos you use.
- For motor access needs: Put aside your mouse and try navigating using a keyboard, and then find out how to fix any issues you discover.
- For cognitive access needs: Don’t impose any limits on the amount of time your content appears, or that learners have to complete assessments.
After this initial step you can continue to add another micro commitment for each of the four access needs in every new piece of learning you create. You will find 20 of these in eLaHub’s Why design accessible learning content? resource. Once you’ve made a start on your eLearning accessibility journey, rest assured that creating welcoming, engaging and fully inclusive learning content is only a short step away.