Making Learning Accessible Part Four: How do I make my content accessible?

In the last post, we discussed how to make sure the software you use is accessible. Now we’re on to the final step that puts the power back into the hands of the user.

How do I make my content accessible?

After a whole lot of years in learning management, this is a question that comes up a lot. You’ve been mandated by your department, dean, HR team, etc to make your content accessible to users. Assuming you have an idea of what that means, where do you start?

The first thing I often recommend once we get over the hurdle of defining the what and why of accessibility is to run an accessibility scan. Find out where you stand with your existing content.

One note: Remember that if your content is behind a login, for instance a course in a learning management system, the free scanners may be not able to access your content.

Use the results of the scan to see where updates need to happen. If you follow this list of tips from UC Berkeley you can knock out some of the most common problems around headers, graphics, and tables.

Don’t have a course yet? That’s ok, let’s think about the sort of content that you need. This could include videos, graphics, text, uploaded documents, slideshows, and content that you create in the content or learning management system like quizzes, polls, surveys, and assignments.

The goal is to always have multiple methods of sharing information. Have a great graphic that shows an important process? Write a text caption to go with it.

That video with great narration? Provide a copy of the transcript. I am a hearing person, but I love having transcripts when I need to refer back to a video or if I want to access content but am not in a space where playing the audio would be welcomed.

What If I’m ready to go further?

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a leader in Accessible Technology and has a great website filled with advice and tutorials to take your knowledge even further, ranging from creating accessible PDFs to avoiding interactions that require mouse movements.

They also host community of practice meetings regularly to discuss accessibility issues. While theirs might not be the right place for you, seek out communities of practice, whether they are specific to the content management software you use, the development language, your region, or any other niche that makes sense for you so that we can inform and practice more inclusive design and development together.

Here’s my two cents, in shorter terms:

We all have to start somewhere.

  1. Find out where your software and content currently stand accessibility-wise.
  2. Set measurable, reasonable goals for your accessibility-friendly -focused development and/or seek out products that are designed with accessibility in mind.
  3. Develop your content for multiple modalities.
  4. Find communities of practice to share expertise.




Making Learning Accessible Part Two: What is accessible technology?

In part one of this series on learning accessibility, we took a look at what learning accessibility means and why we lose our learners when it’s not accessible.

In this post, we’ll take a look at how accessibility is implemented in learning.

The discussion below is based on my experience with implementing software based on accessibility standards in the U.S. If I have misspoken or been insensitive in my language, my deepest apologies. Please comment below or use the Contact form to send me corrections or feedback.

So we were talking about structure…

That’s right! In the last post, we left off talking about how creating a great online learning experience starts with making our learning accessible to learners.

We, and that’s the royal “we” of folks who work in the software industry, have some written standards that we need to follow. The requirements defined for accessibility vary regionally.  Content in the U.S. is typically looked at through the lens of Section 508.

Similar to the ADA physical design standard linked in the previous post, Section 508 defines the requirements for software to be considered accessible. Section 508 is the section of text in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that provides for equal access to electronic and information technology for disabled employees of the Federal government. [Sidebar: If you want to do business with the federal government, your software better be Section 508 compliant.] Many states also use Section 508 as a minimum requirement for their software as well as having their own definitions.

That sounds complicated.

It can be, but you’re not alone in this. There is a whole field of Accessible Technology which is designed to help users in the online world the same way that technology in the physical world assists folks. Blind/low-vision users can get a lot of information via screen readers, which are text-to-speech converters that will read your site to them. Deaf/hard of hearing users can have videos interpreted via closed captioning, transcripts, and when available/if appropriate sign language translation.

One of the goals in Section 508 is to make sure the things we create, software, websites, and content, will work with those existing technologies. As of this year, Section 508 also incorporates Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)  to expand accessibility requirements and standardize what success looks like when it comes to accessibility.

So what do I need to do?

Well, that’s going to depend on what you do, but it’s easy to get started. The next posts will go in depth on what you need to do to make sure your content delivery system and your content are accessible.


Making Learning Accessible Part One: What is accessibility and how does it impact learning?

In part one of this series on learning accessibility, we take a look at what learning accessibility means and why we need to make learning accessible.

The discussion below is based on my experience with implementing software based on accessibility standards in the U.S. If I have misspoken or been insensitive in my language, my deepest apologies. Please comment below or use the Contact form to send me corrections or feedback.

So what is accessibility?

Accessibility is a pretty standard topic in the training world. Short story: Everyone needs equal access to learn. But access can differ based on the person. What works for one person may not be useful or even usable to someone else. This could mean a person with disabilities related to vision, hearing, reading, comprehension, and/or physical access not having access to work, travel, play, and generally live their life unimpeded. The goal in accessibility work is to assist the person by removing those blockers.

How does access impact learning?

If you can’t get to it, then you can’t use it. A learner’s ability to access a learning space and use the resources in it is the most basic definition I can come up with on how accessibility impacts learning. If I can’t get to a classroom, I’m not going to be able to be a part of the discussion or listen to the lecture and ask questions, and my learning is very obviously impacted. So we make our spaces accessible by following design standards that are planned to accommodate all of the bodies we can imagine in all of the ways we can think of. Physical space design standards are defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and illustrated in very specific ways here. Anything that impacts a person’s movements, from the size of a doorway to the lack of a ramp or elevator, literally impacts their access to learning.

How does this apply to online learning?

The first step in creating great online learning is making sure it’s accessible and usable by our learners. Providing access to online learning is not all that different from physical learning spaces. We structure our online world to make sure resources are available to all users, equally, by paying special attention to the way we build and deliver our resources.

All good learning experiences take work. And luckily, we don’t have to do this work alone. In the next post, let’s talk about what you need to do to get started making your learning accessible and how to get help.


Making Learning Accessible Part Three: Is my software accessible?

In part three of this series on Making Learning Accessible, we take a look at what you need to do to make your web content accessible. Today’s post focuses on the tools used for content delivery and what to do if you’re not a software/web developer.

Do you manage your own content through someone else’s software?

Awesome, start with UC Berkely’s ten tips on web accessibility here. Your goal is two-fold:

  1. Make sure the software you use is designed with accessibility in mind.
  2. Make sure you setup your content to be accessible.

How do I make sure my software is accessible?

First, ask. Check with your helpdesk, IT team, site administrator, or the vendor to see if the software meets Section 508 accessibility requirements. If you are the Site Administrator, see if your vendor has a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) completed for the release of the software you use. The VPAT requires the vendor to explain what parts of the software don’t meet Section 508 requirements, what workarounds exist, and if they are working on a fix.

If you can’t get a clear answer, you can do some testing on your own. There are tons of free resources and tools out there to help. A good place to start is to run an accessibility scan of your site. There are lots of free accessibility scanners available that will give results for free like this open source accessibility scanner. You input your URL, run the scan and will receive a report with any issues that can be corrected technically. Some of the items the scan will check for include:

  • Are headings (H1, H2,…) defined as such in the site display so that a screen reader user can quickly skip through sections and find what they care about? Are there missing headings? Does a user have to go through the full site top to bottom and listen to every single word to navigate your site?
  • Do all images that provide context within your content have alternative descriptions (A.K.A. alt text) that help someone who can’t see an image to understand what it shows and what context, if any, it provides?
  • Are tables used inappropriately to format the site layout instead of displaying data?
  • And a whole lot more. If you’re not in the U.S., have a look at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)  Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

If you find issues with the site accessibility, talk to your administrators, helpdesk, and/or the vendor to get those issues corrected. Once issues are corrected, then it’s up to you as a content creator to use those tools appropriately.

In the next post, we’ll talk about making content that is accessible.

Two decades in the software industy? I’ve learned a few things.

Hi, I’m Wes and I’ve been consulting on elearning solutions since 2009. Prior to getting into the online learning industry, I was a classroom software trainer, project manager, implementer, tech support rep and occasional developer when I was really feeling fancy. Or was at a client site with a broken solution to implement.

My goal is to share the knowledge I’ve gained from a whole lotta years in the software industry. Given that I started back in 1998, It’s been quite a journey! From helping the programmers fix potential Y2K problems in a COBOL payroll system to leading HR managers in developing their first SQL reports, I got off to a running start and have spent time in just about every department at a software company. (Except accounting. I got a C. Sorry Dad.)

My passion, as I’ve discovered over time, is in training. I’ve spent 20 years walking clients through support calls, managing project implementations, and seeing the points where we get stuck. I’ve got a feel for helping the end user get what they want, meeting a client’s needs, and pointing the companies I work with towards providing the best support we can, with a few bells and whistles thrown in to make it a really great learning experience.

So let’s take a journey together. We’ll use my experience to put your content out where it belongs, and have some great conversations on the way.