Accessibility in E-Learning
The Disability Discrimination Act currently states that every business operating website should offer the basic accessibility requirements, same as in physical premises. With the user becoming more and more the focus of the online world, it was only a matter of time before such an amendment was issued. Applicable in e-learning, this means that the user/learner receives the attention he needs to make the training more effective.
Because the audience of an e-learning course is so diverse, the content should be delivered in different manners, according to the various needs. In the end, everyone should have access to the same information as everyone else. The learning environment should have the ability to adjust to the needs of all the learners in order to be fully accessible. In the end, improving accessibility will lead to a more usable website for the entire learning community.
The problem of accessibility doesn't only refer to users with disabilities. For example, if a website only works on Internet Explorer, but its target audience may be using both IE and Mozilla Firefox or Chrome, then the site is not accessible to a part of the group. Other such issues include the usage of Flash or Java Script for certain applications, which may be inaccessible to some. The same applies to people who have a slow Internet connection or a text-only screen, those who have difficulties with reading comprehension or have their eyes/ears/hands busy temporarily. From the earliest phases, those of design, a website should be created keeping accessibility in mind. Focusing on this matter in the development phase will definitely be more cost effective than doing so later on.
If you want to see the level of accessibility of a website, there are some tests that you can perform:
- Turn off images - This will reveal whether adequate alterative text is provided for every image, which will come in aid of the visually impaired. Note: When uploading images to Moodle, for example, a warning pop-up window appears if you haven't filled in the alt text section.
- Turn off sound - This will show whether audio content is available through text equivalents, which is an important feature for people with hearing impairment as well as those working and learning in a noisy environment.
- Vary font size - Using the browser's controls of text size, the font should change on the screen accordingly, keeping the page usable even at large sizes.
- Test screen resolutions - Resizing the browser window or using different screen resolutions should not require horizontal scrolling. If horizontal scrolling is implied, it could be a disadvantage for people with motion deficit. An efficient screen size tester can be found here.
- Gray scale - Turning the display color to gray scale should result in adequate color contrast. Using different colors in text should be distinguishable for the visually impaired as well.
- Keyboard navigation - To check whether people with mobility impairment can navigate without using the mouse, use Tab, Home, End, Pg Up/Dn. All links should be accessible and navigation should be as smooth as possible.
- Voice browser - The information of the graphic user interface should have equivalents available in voice or text browser, which has to sound meaningful when read by e.g. Microsoft Narrator.
These tests can show you the weak points of your website, so you can begin to make improvements. Make sure that there is at least one alternative available for every potential disability. Even if you implement these accessibility guidelines in the initial phase of the project, you can still use the tests as check-up when the site is up and running.
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