Accessibility: Why it's Worth It

 E-Learning Production Manager at MicroAssist, Jillian McCarthyJillian McCarthy has been Production Manager for the E-Learning department at MicroAssist for two years. She develops courses, shapes MicroAssist’s production standards, and oversees projects as they go through sales to production, through quality assurance, and as they’re implemented in Learning Management Systems.

At MicroAssist, accessibility is an essential priority as we develop E-Learning courses. We value education and strive to make our E-Learning accessible to everyone, even when it is not required.  When starting new projects, I hear a lot of questions about accessibility. Clients wonder: What are the benefits of making training accessible? Will accessibility requirements interfere with their vision for the training?

Creating accessible E-Learning can be intimidating at first. With the constantly changing standards, environment, and priorities, developers have to stay on their toes, and it can be nearly impossible for the layperson to keep up. The important thing to remember are all the reasons your project needs to be accessible.

It’s the right thing to do.

Technology and E-Learning are exciting because of all the doors they open for people. Access to information opens up doors for people to improve their lives. Technology has the greatest impact when it supports all of mankind, not just who we assume will be accessing our content. A lot of E-Learning is on the job training or continuing education. E-Learning that is not accessible wouldn't just deny the convenience that technology offers, it would deny equal opportunity in the workforce.

Consider the ease at which we obtain information. While grocery shopping, we can look up a recipe to find that ingredient we know we are about to forget. At a stoplight we can ask the phone whether to go left or right. We can communicate with friends all over the world, receive up-to-date news, research any topic, and shop for things not otherwise available to us. Accessibility ensures that convenience is available to a collective we, not only mainstream users.

Accessible E-Learning does not mean boring E-Learning!

Accessibility can improve quality in all aspects of training! Take a look at our courses – each one is completely accessible. Multimedia and interactivity can be integrated in an accessible way, improving the experience for every learner.

Have you ever hovered your mouse over an image to see more information about it? When done properly, that alternate text assists with screen readers, but it’s a function that everyone benefits from. Or turned on the closed captioning because a speaker was talking too fast or had an accent you didn't understand? Had your eyes ache after a few minutes on a website with poorly chosen colors and low text contrast? Many accessible features have a positive impact on a mainstream experience as well.

And when you build in accessibility requirements from the start of the project, the added expense is not significant. Most of the difficulty of creating accessible training is eliminated when there is proper planning and QA checkpoints throughout development – a process MicroAssist has perfected and streamlined. Accessibility is so engrained in our process that it no longer creates additional work for our team: it’s simply part of our treatment.

Accessible web design directly correlates with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategies.

Organizations that build accessibility into their website are rewarded by displaying higher in search results on Google or Bing. Descriptive links, detailed alt tags on images, and clearly defined navigational links will help make your site accessible, but also give your page rank a bump.

Minimize the risk of future lawsuits.

The legal requirements for accessibility vary widely and can be confusing. Section 508, an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, does require any agency that receives federal funding to make electronic and information technology accessible. There are no laws requiring businesses make their websites accessible, but civil suits have been brought against several companies over accessibility issues. Target recently settled with the National Federation for the Blind for $6 million over accessibility concerns, and there have been multiple successful lawsuits against Target,, Wells Fargo, etc. that have resulted in payouts as high as 16 million dollars.

Where do I start?

I first learned about accessibility standards from our CTO, Hiram Kuykendall. He recruited me to join his Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR) team when I came on board at MicroAssist. AIR, a 6 week competition run by MicroAssist’s partner Knowbility, connects a team of developers with a non-profit organization that needs a website. The team of developers works with the non-profit to design a totally accessible website that suits the needs of the non-profit and will help them grow.

AIR is fun to be a part of, but the true value for me has been the exposure to a wealth of information on accessibility. Learning about accessibility standards while working side-by-side with experienced developers was an incredible experience, one that’s made me more passionate about accessibility and given me new tools to use at work. Taking first prize two years in a row was a great bonus!

There are many resources out there to help developers learn about accessibility: I often refer to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 for clarification. Knowbility is also an incredible resource and has a yearly conference, Access U, that I highly recommend

And of course, MicroAssist offers excellent courses on accessibility that I have been fortunate enough to participate in as a student and as an instructor.

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