Accessibility refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people who have disabilities. It involves making sure that people with disabilities can independently perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the product or service.
It’s an important consideration in the development of elearning because it ensures that all learners, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, can access and benefit from the educational material. In this article, we will explore the reasons why accessibility matters in elearning and discuss how to meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to create inclusive and effective learning experiences for all.
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Learning that’s designed for all
Imagine you are a college student who is hard of hearing and relies on captions to access audio content in your online courses. You’ve just started a new semester and are excited to dive into your studies, but as you begin watching the first lecture, you realise that the captions are incomplete and inaccurate. You struggle to understand the material and become frustrated and discouraged.
Now, imagine that the same course was designed with accessibility in mind. The captions are complete and accurate, and there are additional resources, such as transcripts and visual aids, to support your learning. You are able to fully engage with the material and feel confident and motivated in your studies.
This scenario illustrates the importance of accessibility in elearning. By designing materials that are accessible to all learners, educators can ensure that everyone has the opportunity to succeed and fully participate in their education.
Why accessibility should be top priority
eLearning has become a popular and convenient way for individuals to access educational material, but it is important to ensure that all learners, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, can access and benefit from the content. There are several reasons why accessibility is important in developing elearning.
First, it is a legal requirement in many countries. Organisations that fail to make their web information and services accessible are liable for complaints and legal action under the following:
- Australian Disability Discrimination Act (1992)
- United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with a Disability (2006)
- World Wide Web Access: Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes ver 4.1 (2014)
Failing to meet these requirements can result in legal action.
Second, accessibility is important from an ethical standpoint. By designing elearning materials that are accessible to all learners, educators can ensure that they are not discriminating against or excluding any individuals based on their abilities or disabilities. This is especially important in the field of education, where the goal is to provide equal opportunities for all learners to succeed.
Third, making elearning materials accessible can benefit all learners, not just those with disabilities. For example, providing alternatives to audio content, such as captions or transcripts, can make it easier for learners who are deaf or hard of hearing to access the material, but it can also benefit learners who are in a noisy environment or who prefer to read rather than listen. Similarly, designing elearning materials with clear and concise language and layout can make it easier for learners with learning disabilities to understand the material, but it can also benefit all learners by making the content more clear and organized.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has developed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to provide guidelines for making web content more accessible to people with disabilities. WCAG is a set of standards that outlines how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities. The guidelines are organised into four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
WCAG Standards Level A, AA, AAA
There are three levels of conformance to the WCAG standards: Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA. Level A is the most basic level of conformance and includes guidelines that are essential for ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities. Level AA includes additional guidelines that are important for ensuring accessibility for a wider range of disabilities. Level AAA includes the most stringent guidelines and is the highest level of conformance.
Check this article for a quick comparison of these WCAG Guidelines.
What level should you comply with?
When choosing which WCAG standard to comply with, it is important to consider the target audience of the elearning material and the resources available for developing and maintaining the material. For example, if the elearning material is intended for a broad audience, including individuals with a wide range of disabilities, it may be necessary to comply with the Level AA or Level AAA standards. On the other hand, if the elearning material is intended for a specific audience with a limited range of disabilities, it may be sufficient to comply with the Level A standards.
In addition to considering the target audience and resources, it is also important to consider the legal requirements and industry standards for accessibility. Some industries, such as education and healthcare, may have specific requirements for accessibility that must be met. It is also important to consider the potential consequences of failing to meet the required accessibility standards, including legal action and damage to the organisation’s reputation.
Beyond these, cost is also going to be a consideration. The stricter the standards, the more investment it requires to comply. Ensure you match your budget with the required accessibility standard for your use case.
In summary, accessibility is the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with disabilities. It is important in developing elearning materials because it ensures that all learners, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, can access and benefit from the educational material.
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