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Navigating eLearning Accessibility – Insights from the trenches

People have started referring to me as as the eLearning accessibility”expert” at work.  I really try to avoid this label because, while I feel that I’ve reached a level of expertise in eLearning, I am definitely a newbie when it comes to accessibility. From speaking with other peers in the field, it seems as though this label is common to them as well. Because  they have expertise in eLearning, it is assumed the expertise expands into accessibility.

For many designers and developers, accessibility means boring/dull and increased work because activities are restricted, and multimedia can be problematic for assistive technologies like screen readers. The solution for some is to create separate eLearning courses, one with media and one without, but then for anyone who has a maintenance strategy, you are well aware of the problems inherent in multiple versions (unless you are working with a great XML based content management system – but many of us aren’t).

Apart from the challenges above, there are other things that I’ve found myself needing to consider as I try to navigate accessibility in eLearning:

      • What does accessibility mean in the context of eLearning and the web?
      • How would someone with a disability experience the learning I’m designing? (I mean really understand this – because it will help you connect with the guidelines and your learners instead of just implementing them without knowing why – see video below)
      • What is WCAG 2.0? What is the WC3 initiative?

WCAG 2.0 Theme Song

    • What do your eLearning tools/technology allow you to currently implement to meet these guidelines and what functionality is still not quite there?
    • Does your LMS support these guidelines (or, in other words, what are you going to do if your eLearning is accessible but your LMS is not? )
    • What are you state/provincial or federal standards? What are your corporate standards?

A very smart colleague of mine facilitated a presentation on accessibility recently, and the biggest ‘ah ha’ moment for me was when he explained that we need to get away from the perception that we are only building accessible learning for the 10 people who have self-identified themselves with a disability in our organization – we need to realize that we are also building it for ourselves.  Think about it….. Do you wear glasses? Is your hearing 100%? Are you color blind? Do you have carpal tunnel, or arthritis or a sports injury that makes it difficult to use a mouse? As you age, will your sight and hearing and motor function improve or get worse? It’s by thinking about accessibility in these ways that as designers, we’ll be better able to connect with our learners and ensure our design meets all needs.

The last piece of insight that I’ve gained on my journey into designing accessible eLearning is the realization that because the technology and the standards are relatively new, we still have a lot to learn but that at the same time, the only way we will get to where we need to go is by starting somewhere.

If you are designing learning using eLearning or othere digital technologies, I welcome your comments, experiences and perspectives so please leave your comments below.

Resources

I’ve collected a few resources on WCAG and on eLearning and accessibility (including some checklists) that you can find here:  http://www.diigo.com/list/nancyslawski/accessibility-e_learning-and-technology

Some good starting points are:

WCAG Quick Reference
http://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG20/quickref/

Webaim Checklist
http://webaim.org/standards/wcag/checklist

Free course on understanding Web Accessibility
http://courses.idrc.ocad.ca/go.php/1/index.php/ib/1//p_course/1

 

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