When designing online training, it can be easy to assume that access is not an issue. Anyone can participate in online training: there’s no travel involved, no need to think about the venue, fewer barriers to attend as everyone has access to the Internet… right?
These assumptions ignore the diverse and often hidden nature of disability and the access issues associated with it. As the World Health Organization outlines “Disability… is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person's body and features of the society in which [they live].” To create accessible learning content, we’re talking about ensuring all learners can access the content without barriers. This often involves adapting existing technology or exploring additional technologies to ensure that the training content is relevant for everyone.
To help you create online training that reaches all members of your learning audience fully and fairly, we’ve put together some of our top tips.
Know your audience. Before designing your training (of any media or style), get to know your audience. This includes their age group, pre-existing knowledge, first language, free time, and Internet access.
Research shows that disabled people are less likely to have at-home Internet access, a computer or a smartphone. But this does not have to be a barrier. As the disability rights advocate Lydia X. Z. Brown says, “Provide information on how to access the event for people with limited or no access to the Internet at home, and be willing to share information offline too.” If you’re organizing a webinar, provide the option for participants to dial-in from their mobile phones. If you’re designing an e-module, think about whether the information also can be conveyed in a physical form, such as a printable infosheet or booklet.
Another consideration is whether any members of your audience have learning disabilities, or hearing or sight loss. These factors will help you decide whether you need to send out additional materials to support the session, or whether online training is really the right format in the first place. Putting the needs of your audience first will help you to create a training experience that is both relevant and enjoyable for everyone.
The 3-click rule. Although disputed as a rule for web design, the 3-click rule holds its own when it comes to those with ADHD or learning difficulties, as well as people who are short on time. The general rule is if it takes more than 3 clicks to find essential information, a user will get frustrated and disengage with the content, potentially missing crucial information. So, while the 3-click rule might not necessarily be true for web-design, it has standing when it comes to accessible training.
Font size. Font style. Font color. Make sure the text is an appropriate size or can be made larger, either within the training content itself or that it can be altered in the devices’ accessibility settings. For learners with visual impairments such as color blindness and dyslexia, adding sufficient contrast between the font color and the page background and using a plain background ensures readability.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again - Alt Text. Ensure all images used have an appropriate description, especially if that image contains important text or information for the training to be completed. Don’t be more concerned about the SEO benefits behind Alt Text than you are about making the image fully accessible for those with visual impairments. Be specific and descriptive to ensure that all relevant details are included.
Provide options for different formats of handouts, and send out information prior to the training event. Some people may require handouts in large print, braille, in a specific color or font, or in an Easy Read format. Providing handouts stops the need for note-taking and lessens the chances of attendees missing what you are saying. However, if you want to save on printing costs and benefit the environment, emailing handouts in an appropriate format ahead of time can work for some people, too. Just make sure that any images included in the digital handouts have appropriate Alt Text.
Ensure compatibility with screen readers and device-specific accessibility settings. Make your training accessible for users of screen readers and those who have specific accessibility settings on their devices. Before publishing your training, have a test run using different devices, with different settings, to ensure that your training is accessible for all.
Subtitles aren’t for everyone, but they are useful. Subtitles or captions can bring a video or podcast to life for those who are deaf, hard of hearing or viewing a video in their non-native language. Sometimes they’re just preferred in general (when was the last time you had the volume on your phone turned all the way up?).
However, don’t mistake subtitles as an appropriate substitute for a sign language interpreter. Sign languages, such as BSL or ASL, are languages in their own right, and not everyone who uses sign language necessarily understands written English. Remember, consider your demographic and find out all you can about your learners. An interpreter in your training video could make all the difference.
A word-for-word voiceover. Consider adding a word-for-word voiceover to your e-module or digital document. Many training e-modules use a voiceover as a source of additional information not found in the text on screen, but this excludes people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or those who simply can’t find their earphones. A word-for-word voiceover keeps your training accessible, and can be muted if it’s not for you.
There are so many ways to make online training accessible to all. Accessible technology is improving all the time and is available on almost every device. However, the most important consideration when you're designing any training is your audience. Find out as much about them as you can, and design your training accordingly. It’s just not acceptable to be inaccessible.