Digital accessibility in eLearning
Unfortunately, easily or even fully accessible digital products are not used anywhere near as widely as they should be in order to support and include in all user groups equally. Accessibility is the latest buzzword. This means making media equally accessible and usable for every individual, regardless of any restriction they may live with. It means designing websites, technologies and tools so that people with disabilities can identify, understand, navigate and interact with content on the web. A large group of users live with restrictions. In Germany alone, almost 10% of the population is severely disabled, about 350,000 are visually impaired, about 80,000 people are deaf and about 16 million are hard of hearing. Find out how to make your digital learning experiences as accessible as possible and provide all learners with an equally engaging learning experience.
User groups with restrictions
- Short- and long sightedness
- Color blindness
- Visual impairment
Limited motor skills
- Muscle weakness
- Limited coordination skills
- Impaired hearing (at different levels)
Cognitive impairment or risk of seizures
- Limited ability to learn
- Limited comprehension
- Slower to grasp content
Restrictions due to advanced age
- Motor skills
- Speed at which content is grasped
Temporary and situational restrictions
- Broken arm
- Bright sunlight
- Situations where audio cannot be supported
Why digital accessibility is so important
The term “accessibility” was originally coined by the construction industry. Everyone knows that it is about removing all the obstacles that would make access difficult for people with primary physical disabilities, or even prohibit access altogether. Digital accessibility means the same thing, but in this case with regard to the virtual space. Technical as well as physical barriers must be removed and content made accessible in order to enable unrestricted access to digital products. In practical terms, this means ensuring that every individual can run, see, understand and create content on the Internet on any device, irrespective of potential obstacles such as impaired hearing or sight, cognitive or motor impairments and technical, social, cultural or environmental barriers.
The following statistics illustrate the urgency of the need to provide access for all:
In this context, it is important to remember that only 4% of the disabilities mentioned here are hereditary. Most of them are caused by illness, accidents or old age, when people gradually find it increasingly difficult to hear and see. Attention also needs to be given to people with temporary disabilities. Creating an inclusive eLearning program therefore means responding not only to any current needs, but also taking preventive action and thus making training products accessible to all. Accessible learning programs help provide people with disabilities with the same individualized learning experience. This is a goal for society as a whole, and chemmedia AG is helping to achieve it through the development of Knowledgeworker Create authoring software, which enables teachers and trainers to produce accessible online courses.
Digital accessibility is becoming mandatory
Despite continuous improvements and the introduction of self-service portals, many regulatory issues still cannot be dealt with digitally. The German Online Access Act (Onlinezugangsgesetz; OZG) now aims to take further steps forward in this context by requiring the public sector to offer administrative services via appropriate online portals by the end of 2022. Pursuant to the OZG, the German Accessible Information Technology Ordinance (Barrierefreie-Informationstechnik-Verordnung; BITV) and the European Accessibility Act (EAA), all websites must be accessible to a broad potential target group.
The laws and guidelines apply to
- public web applications,
- internal web applications (intranet),
- administrative applications, and
- documents of official bodies.
Official bodies are all those organizations that are subject to European law on public procurement. These include the federal government, the federal states, municipalities, schools and colleges (including their digital learning programs), kindergartens, day care centers and legal entities under public and private law (to the extent that they undertake tasks of a non-commercial nature in the general interest, such as in the operation of health insurance funds or social security institutions).
The 4 principles of accessibility
The BITV is based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)—the international standards of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The W3C draws up a variety of requirements that web developers can use for guidance. At the heart of this are the following four principles:
User interface information and components must be presented in a legible manner.
All user interface and navigation components must be user-friendly.
User interface information and operation must be easily understood.
Information and content must be robust enough to be reliably interpreted by a range of user agents, including assistive technologies.
Assistive technologies you should be aware of
Many people with restricted ability depend on assistive technologies to be able to consume of digital media, and these in turn make certain demands on websites to be “readable”. These include:
Alternative output devices
Screen readers that either read written text out loud to visually impaired people or convert it into Braille.
This service requires the application to be capable of being operated without a mouse, i.e., exclusively via the keyboard. It’s usually based on the tab key.
Alternative input devices
This means alternative ways of controlling applications, such as eye control (e.g., eye tracking), mouth mouse, joystick, Braille keyboard or gestures.
Voice-recognition software enables learners to navigate content via a variety of voice commands such as “click menu”, completely replacing the keyboard and mouse.
Making eLearning accessible
There are simple adjustments you can make to implement the above principles of legibility, usability, comprehensibility and robustness. When designing accessible online courses, you are primarily concerned with ensuring legibility and comprehensibility. Usability and robustness can largely be guaranteed by selecting accessibility software.
Tips on accessible legibility
To ensure fonts are as legible as possible on the web, they should have no serifs or other ornaments (sans-serif fonts). In addition, individual letters should be easily distinguishable from one another, i.e., you should not use specialty fonts. Ideally, fonts should follow the principles of dynamic form. You should also avoid using upper case letters. Below are some fonts that are especially easy to read: Neue Frutiger 1450, Unit, Calibri, Open Sans, Fira Sans, FF Meta, TheSans, Wayfinding Sans
Font colors must stand out clearly from the background. The contrast ratio should ideally be at least 4.5:1. You can check the legibility of your chosen background and text color on the whocanuse.com platform.
Long lines of text are harder to take in than shorter ones. So make sure your desktop version does not run texts across the entire width of the screen. To be as easy as possible to read, lines should contain a minimum of 35 and a maximum of 80 characters (including spaces).
Left-justified texts (ragged right) helps the eye move easily to the next line. Always avoid fully justified text, as this results in large and irregular spaces between words.
Although line spacing of 120% guarantees good readability for printed texts, this should be increased to 150% to 160% for digital texts.
Ensure that links and buttons are particularly well highlighted and can be easily identified. Use at least one highlight color for buttons and combine this with underlining and a recognizable frame.
All images, graphics, and videos must be supplied with texts that provide a detailed and precise description of their content.
Text can only be captured by screen readers if it is created as an HTML tag—not if it is integrated into an image file in the form of pixels. To enable text to be integrated into images, some software offers the option to store text in images as a screen-reader-accessible HTML tag.
Since screen readers can jump between headings and links in order to give their users an overview, we recommend that you make headings and links especially clear. Headings should always be created as HTML tags (H1-H2-H3-, etc.) to enable that screen readers to recognize them as such. Clear demarcation, between font sizes and weights, for example, also helps to make the hierarchy easily recognizable.
All applications and views must be fully responsive to ensure they can be displayed correctly on any device.
All content—but above all text—should be capable of being enlarged by up to 200% without loss of quality, so that it can be adapted to individual’s viewing needs.
Avoid banners and GIF graphics that move faster than three times per second (trigger for epileptic seizures) and if in doubt ensure content can be paused and viewed again from the beginning.
Subtitles or scripts should be provided for videos and podcasts.
Tips on accessible comprehensibility
Professional eLearning software gives you the opportunity to divide your courses into sections and subsections, while providing visible navigation that indicates where you are in the course at any time. This must also, of course, be labeled precisely.
What are the contents of individual course sections? A short intro text for each section helps people keep an overview.
Texts should always be easy to understand and sentences should be as short as possible. It may also help to provide a second version of the course in deliberately plain language. Plain language has been developed for people with learning disabilities, cognitive limitations or limited language skills. It follows a precise set of rules, is written by trained translators and then edited by those concerned.
Sign language is recognized as a language in its own right and is the mother tongue of many hearing-impaired people. Because written language depicts the phonetic language, sign language is easier for those affected to understand than a written text. As a minimum, videos explaining practical processes should therefore also be translated into sign language.
The bottom line
Regardless of legal obligations, accessibility and thus equal opportunities are important issues for society. Even small adjustments can minimize or completely remove technical and physical barriers and inaccessible content. This allows you to make it easier for people with restricted abilities to access valuable training material, enable them to participate on an equal footing, and at the same time strengthen your employees’ loyalty in the long term. chemmedia AG will be happy to help you with implementation and, in the form of Knowledgeworker Create, can provide you with a highly accessible authoring tool that is under constant development when it comes to accessibility.
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