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How accessible eLearning promotes disability equality in the workplace | Susi Miller

Susi Miller
Susi Miller, an eLearning accessibility advocate and an instructional designer explains why accessible workplace eLearning is vital both for disabled people and businesses.

Have you started a new job recently? If you have, you will almost certainly have had some induction, onboarding or compliance training. Part of this training will very probably have been delivered by eLearning. We use eLearning (or e-learning) to refer to educational materials delivered through a media format or digital technology.

In fact, whatever work you do, it’s likely that you will have had some experience of online workplace learning.

This is easy to understand since eLearning is often seen as the cheapest and most efficient way to deliver training to large numbers of staff. But what is more difficult to understand, is why so much of this online learning is still not accessible.

Accessibility issues with workplace training videos

Findings from Scope’s Big Hack Reporting Tool show how difficult this can be for disabled staff members. Many people reported that they had accessibility problems with online workplace learning. They identified that staff training videos which had no, or very poor-quality captions caused most problems.

I’ve recently had training at work which featured several videos with no subtitles.

Big Hack survey respondent

Organisations understand they need to train their staff for them do their jobs well. But how can it be that so much of that training still excludes disabled people? There are many reasons for this, but an important one is attitudes to accessibility in the eLearning industry.

There are some common myths about disability and accessibility which mean that very few suppliers think it is important. One of the most damaging myths is that accessibility affects only a very small minority of learners.

The people who are excluded

But this is not the case. We know that in most countries 20% of the population have a disability. This means that when we provide inaccessible eLearning, we potentially exclude 1 in 5 of our learners. We also know that in the UK there are more than 3.7 million disabled people in work, which equals 11% of the working population.

Although many people find this surprising, it’s very likely that the true number of people who have a disability in the workplace is much higher. This is because many people do not feel comfortable disclosing a disability at work. Some people with access needs may not themselves identify as disabled. Many people also have undiagnosed disabilities such as dyslexia, or ADHD.

A series of common mistakes with text and background colour contrast often found in eLearning.
Common colour contrast issues with eLearning resources and how to fix them.

For example, consider the common issues with text and colour contrast. When we improve the contrast ratio between the text and background colours, we increase the audience who can read it.

High colour contrast ratios help people with visual impairments. And people with colour deficiency and low-contrast sensitivity, which is common in older people. In fact, everyone can read the text more easily.

The cost to the organisation

If we consider some of the most common subjects for workplace learning, it makes it clear how crucial it is that all staff are included:

  • Policy and compliance
  • Health and safety
  • Induction and onboarding
  • Leadership skills

Denying staff access to essential online training not only unfairly discriminates against those who have a disability, but it also impacts business. Staff who cannot access eLearning are less efficient and productive than their colleagues. They could even be a risk to an organisation if, for example, they can’t access compliance or health and safety training. The costs to the organisation could be enormous.

And, when workplace eLearning resources are not designed with disabled people in mind, further technical costs arise. The organisation must put in additional time and effort to find alternative ways to deliver individual training to those who can’t access it online.

The UK law and workplace training

Advocates in the industry want eLearning to be accessible for everyone, as standard. For a long time, this has seemed like an impossible dream, but recent changes in the law may be the first step in making that happen. In September 2018, the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations (PSBAR) became UK law.

Since the UK Equality Act 2010, all organisations have had an ‘anticipatory duty’ to make online content accessible. But the new regulations take this further. Online content in most public sector organisations must meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (Levels A and AA). This includes central and local government, higher and further education institutions, the NHS and many charities.

While the regulations still only apply to the public sector, they are a big step in making eLearning content accessible for everyone. As well as applying in the UK, the new digital regulations are now law for all EU member states too.

They also reflect a wider global trend for stricter standards, with most regulations moving in line with W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Although progress is still slow, eLearning industry suppliers are beginning to realise that they will soon lose customers and trade if they do not provide products and services which are legally accessible.

Subtitles on staff training videos at work are inconsistent, I can’t understand them.

Big Hack survey respondent

There is even a hope that the new regulations will encourage more authoring tool providers to meet W3C’s Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG). These recommendations make it much easier for the people who produce eLearning to make it accessible. The two most important make it clear that authoring tool providers need to make sure that ‘accessible content production is possible’ and also ‘guide authors to produce accessible content.’

How to be an accessible eLearning advocate

eLearning is all about changing behaviour and sharing knowledge. Imagine the impact it could have if all eLearning content authors created and promoted accessible eLearning. But until attitudes to accessibility change in the industry, and there is more guidance and support for inclusive eLearning, individuals can still play a vital role in making virtual learning accessible for everyone.

Quick checklist for creating accessible training materials

Here is a checklist of some of the most important things anyone can do to create more accessible online training materials.

Select the links for more information, examples and useful resources.

For visual impairments

  • Add alternative text to images and all other visual elements
  • Provide transcripts and audio description for videos
  • Don’t convey meaning using only colour (like green for correct and red for incorrect)
  • Make sure you use colours with good contrast for background and text
  • Ensure content follows a logical structure for screen reader users

For hearing impairments

  • Provide captions for videos
  • Provide transcripts for audio tracks, like podcasts
  • Make sure learners can stop audio, or control the volume
  • Avoid background audio behind speech in video or audio tracks

For motor impairments

  • Make sure learners can use your resource using only a keyboard, not a mouse
  • Allow learners enough time to complete tasks, or do not set time limits

For cognitive impairments

  • Explain any complex vocabulary or abbreviations
  • Use clear and consistent navigation
  • Allow learners to pause, stop or hide any moving elements
  • Do not include any content which flashes more than three times per second

More eLearning resources

How to Meet WCAG guidelines (Quick Reference)
Why we need more than ‘tips’ on eLearning accessibility – eLNetwork blog

Contributor: Susi Miller, eLearning Accessibility Consultant
Organisation: eLearning Accessibility Hub

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