10 Ways to Develop Accessible Training for All
One of the biggest misconceptions an instructional designer can have is assuming that all learners possess the same abilities and learn in the same manner. This is not only a surefire way to hinder particular students from successfully achieving the learning outcomes, but it also creates an unfair learning environment. And this is why developing accessible training for all is such an important aspect of instructional design.
Accessible training means that all learners, including people with disabilities and learning difficulties, have equal opportunity to learn and succeed. But in addition to providing fair and equal opportunities, accessible training can also make training more engaging and effective for all learners.
In this article, we cover what accessible training is, why it matters, and 10 ways you can develop more accessible training for your learners.
What is accessible training?
Accessible training refers to eLearning courses, online workshops or any other form of instruction that considers the needs of all learners. This means that visual, auditory, cognitive and physical differences are considered when developing and facilitating online learning. The United States Office for Civil Rights defines ‘accessible’ as:
‘…a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally effective and equally integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use. The person with a disability must be able to obtain the information as fully, equally and independently as a person without a disability.
In order to ensure your training is accessible for all participating learners, it’s important to consider the needs of people with disabilities and learning difficulties during the scoping stage. This way, you can appropriately adapt your training during the early planning and development stages.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that many learners choose not to disclose their disabilities or learning difficulties. So instead of making assumptions about your learners, consistently designing your training to be accessible for all is the best approach.
Why does accessible training matter?
One reason why accessible training matters is because it is oftentimes a legal requirement. For example, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in the United States requires federal agencies to make all information, technology and communications accessible to all users, regardless of capabilities.
However, compliance isn’t the only reason why accessible training matters. Even private organisations that may not be legally obliged to provide accessible training can reap many benefits from doing so.
One advantage of accessible training is that it can be more effective and doesn’t leave any learners behind. Since people with disabilities make up over 12% of the population in the United States, there is a high chance that some of your learners may fall into this category. This means that if your training is not accessible for all, you may not be reaching 100% of your learners.
However, even when learners do not have a registered disability, this doesn’t mean that they don’t have other learning needs. For example, nearly 10% of Americans have a learning difficulty. And with the increase in international workforce mobility, there is a chance your learners may not be native speakers of the language of instruction, in which case they could also benefit from accessible training approaches.
10 Ways to develop accessible training
Now that we’ve covered what accessible training is and why it matters, let’s dive into how you can start developing accessible training. Below are ten ways you can ensure your training is more accessible for all learners.
- Understand requirements
When developing accessible eLearning programmes, courses and training, one of the first and most important steps an instructional designer should take is to familiarise themselves with relevant requirements and frameworks. Two of the most helpful and common guidelines related to accessibility are Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
The framework, UDL, is defined by the National Disability Authority as a ‘set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn, including students with disabilities’. By familiarising yourself with these principles and incorporating them into your instruction, you can be sure you are making your training as accessible as possible.
A further set of guidelines for which instructional designers should have an understanding are WCAG. This framework refers specifically to web content and helps instructional designers ensure their online courses and content are appropriately formatted and developed for learners with various types of disabilities.
- Mix up learning formats
Even learners without disabilities or learning difficulties may have preferences when it comes to how they learn best. Some learners prefer more visuals, while others prefer text. Some prefer more social learning, while others would rather learn independently. Therefore, a key to ensuring you’re meeting all learners’ needs and making training accessible is to mix up your learning formats.
One effective way to incorporate different formats into your instruction is to make use of multimedia. Empowering learners with the ability to choose between various types of learning media, such as podcasts, videos, images and text enables them to learn in a method that suits them. In addition to using various types of multimedia, another way to support different learning styles is to incorporate a mixture of group work and independent tasks.
- Get the contrast right
When designing eLearning trainings or courses to be accessible for visually impaired learners, colour contrast matters. However, contrast isn’t just important for visually impaired learners – but all learners. In fact, colour contrast is even one of the core principles of a common instructional design method, known as CRAP.
The acronym CRAP stands for contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity. And although the method’s title may sound unappealing, it is a highly useful framework for instructional designers to ensure they are creating quality and inclusive designs.
Some tips to help you make sure you’re getting the contrast right is to check that the text and background colours have a high contrast ratio of at least 3:1. It’s best to also avoid patterns in the visual design as these could present difficulties for some learners as well.
- Use captions and transcriptions
One of the easiest ways to make your training more accessible is to use captions and transcriptions. Captions and transcriptions make audio learning content, such as lectures, webinars or videos, inclusive for many types of learners.
It is not only learners with hearing impairments that can benefit from captions and transcriptions. Non-native speakers of the language of instruction and learners who digest content best through reading can also benefit. Therefore, it’s vital to make sure captions and transcriptions are always provided.
Many types of learning platforms and video recording tools have built-in transcription and captioning functions that just need to be switched on. However, there are also specific transcription tools, such as Otter that effectively transcribe audio using AI technology.
- Make scanned PDFs accessible
In order for a non-digital learning asset to be made accessible online, it’s common practice for tutors and instructional designers to simply scan the text. However, while scanned PDFs are a common feature in digital learning, they can present difficulties for learners with disabilities.
The reason scanned PDFs can be an issue is because PDF readers cannot always recognise and read the text. So it’s important to always verify that the PDF is readable by a computer – and therefore accessible to learners with visual impairments.
One easy method to check if the text on a scanned PDF is readable by software is to try copying and pasting the text from the PDF to a Word document. If you are not able to preserve the original text, then this is an indicator there is an issue with readability. In this case, you’ll need to use an optical character recognition software, such as Adobe Acrobat Pro.
- Include alt text
Alt text is text included in the HTML code that describes an image in a digital environment. While alt text is commonly used to inform search engine crawlers about the contents of the image, it is also hugely important for accessibility in training and eLearning courses.
The reason alt text is so important for accessibility is because it allows screen readers to accurately describe the image to learners with visual impairments. This prevents learners from being disadvantaged by having unequal access to content.
The key to writing effective alt text is to keep the descriptions short and succinct. You should also provide just enough information that allows learners to understand the content of the image without confusing learners with more details than necessary.
- Provide assessment options
A great way to make training accessible for all learners is to provide learners with options to choose assessment formats that suit them best. Although timed exams and written texts are traditional methods to assess whether learners have achieved the learning outcomes, they aren’t the only ones.
Some examples of other assessment options are presentations, podcasts or practical projects. Learners can then choose a method that suits them best depending on their own abilities and learning preferences.
In order to make training even more accessible, it’s a good idea to inform learners about any upcoming assessments early on in the course or training. This way, learners who require more time will know far enough in advance and can plan accordingly or request accommodations.
- Optimise text formatting
An important consideration when developing training for all is the format of your text. When creating learning modules and slide decks, you’ll need to keep in mind that large blocks of text, and some font styles and sizes can be difficult for certain learners to read.
One way to optimise your text formatting is to break up the text into smaller sections as opposed to using large blocks. Using bullet points and increasing the line spacing can also help to make the text more legible for all learners.
It’s important to also consider your font style and size. Some fonts that are considered widely accessible are Arial, Tahoma, Verdana, Helvetica and Times New Roman. Font size should also be around 16px for body text.
- Use accessibility options
If you’re using an authoring tool or learning management system to develop training, you may already have accessibility options built into the programmes. Therefore, make sure to check that you’re fully using the systems’ capabilities.
For example, the course authoring tool, Lectora has an option to turn on web accessibility settings. This setting automatically generates captions and publishes alt text. It also enables visual focus indicators, which highlight elements on the page that require current focus.
It’s a good idea to inform yourself about your tools’ capabilities through contacting the software provider or main administrator. This way, you aren’t missing out on any automations or functions that can help you more efficiently develop accessible training.
- Communicate clearly
While clear communication in instruction is vital for all learners, it is particularly important for learners with disabilities or learning difficulties. Therefore, it’s vital to always consider the needs of different learners when communicating information about the training.
One way to ensure your communication is clear is to go through the training from the perspective of your learners. Consider if any learners with hearing impairments, visual impairments, learning disabilities or any other disabilities would experience difficulties with understanding any instructions.
A good rule of thumb when communicating clearly is to use brief and consistent text in plain language, and also to cut out any unnecessary words. If you have learners for whom the language of instruction is not their first language, using clear and plain language is also particularly beneficial.
Final thoughts on accessible training
When designing instructional content, it’s important to remember that not all learners choose to disclose their disabilities. Therefore, being proactive and making your learning as accessible as possible gives all learners the best opportunity to obtain the learning outcomes.
Developing accessible training is not only fair, inclusive and compliant, but it also supports all learners to thrive and reach their potential. So regardless of whether you are designing educational content or corporate L&D training, when all learners have the chance to succeed, the whole organisation succeeds.
To develop the skills you need to start creating accessible training for all learners, obtaining a Certificate in Accessibility and Universal Design is the perfect starting point. Click here to learn more about how our Certificate in Accessibility and Universal Design can help you kickstart or advance your career in instructional design.