Last week I was at the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference, presenting a workshop (with Jennifer Chadwick of SiteImprove) on accessible elearning (the resources are available on Microassist’s website.) This year’s CSUN was somewhat lightly attended, due to cautions regarding COVID-19 (and I found I needed to leave earlier than expected).
Still, even with the reduced number of sessions and the lighter attendance, the dedication that people have for ensuring that all experiences are made available to everyone, including those with disabilities, remains inspiring.
Many of the conversations that I had revolved around the question of whether organizations, when they made online training accessible to those with disabilities, were doing so to check a box—that is, to satisfy specified requirements of Section 508 or the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or other regulations—or out of a desire to make their content usable by everyone.
Neither is easy, really. Checking a box requires meeting technical requirements that are very particular. Conforming to those conditions takes time.
Designing for usability
Making content usable is, the consensus seems to be, even more challenging. For example, a recurring theme in the workshop was the need for user acceptance testing. That is, just building something you think will be usable doesn’t really make it accessible. It’s only when testing your content, your website, your training, with your audience that you find out whether your design is practical—and, quite often, that it’s not.
Yet, making content usable, far more than merely satisfying requirements, gets us closer to achieving the goal of accessibility, making (in this case) learning available to everyone.
Many organizations take the first approach, checking a box and addressing only the letter of the law. The challenge to those aiming for real accessibility, as an advocate said to me, is showing organizations why it’s better to aim for usability. The law, they pointed out, is really the formalization of guidelines. If you follow the guidelines—follow the intent—you often find that the specific criteria take care of themselves.
Is aiming for usability worth it? It depends if you’re just checking a box—trying to prevent a lawsuit, to satisfy IT requirements, to get the content past accessibility testers—or if you’re aiming to make sure that training is usable by those with disabilities; that is, creating training that can benefit everyone in your organization.
Academia & Coronavirus
With so many colleges and universities moving to an online-only environment (if only for a limited time) it might be worth highlighting a few specific articles related to higher education.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a special report, “Coronavirus Hits Campus.” While several articles are subscription only, there are free articles that offer significant insight.
Also from The Chronicle of Higher Education, a free, downloadable PDF article collection, Moving Online Now: How to Keep Teaching during Coronavirus. It’s short (about 30 pages), with actionable guidance.
From Dave Pell, a list of online education companies that are making some or all of their services available for free. (But remember Clay Shirky’s advice from The Chronicle of Higher Education’s – Moving Online Now: when considering an emergency shift to online instruction, “the tools that you want to use are the tools you have in place before the crisis hits.”)
In the rush to move online, the need to ensure that courses are available to everyone, including those with disabilities, is often overlooked. Aimi Hamraie has an excellent discussion about and guidelines for “Accessible Teaching in the Time of COVID-19.”
And because everyone will be spending a lot more time working remotely, Melanie Pinola at Zapier has a great guide on “the 7 Biggest Remote Work Challenges (and How to Overcome Them).”
Learn more about Custom Elearning Solutions
Accessible Elearning Solutions: Why Make your Training Accessible? One in five people in the United States has a disability. For many of them, much of today’s online content can be virtually impossible to use. Inaccessible online training creates barriers to learning, and can impede job performance.