Unlocking learning: Designing with humans in mind

I had the privilege of attending the eLearning Guild’s Accessibility Summit a couple of weeks ago. The summit was run completely online via Adobe Connect. This post sums up some of the key points and learnings that I took away from it.

It’s about humans

One of the first big things I took away is that accessibility and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is about humans. We are designing for people. We are not designing for ourselves, our colleagues or our peers. We are designing for others so they can learn. This may sound obvious, and it is, but the point is that we can design something that looks amazing but may not be suitable for some of our learners. We need to understand the range of learners we might have and design with them in mind. If we can design for the range of learners, we will design for everyone.

Accessibility is for everyone

Person with a broken arm using a laptop
Image source: Peter Woodman / Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Accessibility is not just about those who are totally blind, or deaf or in a wheelchair. We are all disabled in some way, at some point in our lives. Most people need glasses during their lifetime. Many suffer some form of hearing loss as they get older. We might break a limb or perhaps we are bed-ridden for a while from being sick.

A medical condition is not a disability, nor is a piece of assistive technology a marker of disability.

A barrier creates a disability.

We need to ensure we’re not creating barriers in our learning design. We must remove barriers to learning.

Perhaps we work in a noisy environment so cannot hear what is being said in a video clip, or perhaps we just don’t want to disturb those around us. A simple solution here could be closed captioning.

Web accessibility refers to the inclusive practice of removing barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to websites, by people with disabilities.

When sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, all users have equal access to information and functionality.

Source: Wikipedia

What we design needs to be:

  • perceivable – eg. Provide text equivalents and alternatives for content. (alt-text; captioning; sign language; etc…)
  • operable – eg. Make functionality avaialble to a keyboard and assistive technologies. Focus first and foremost on keyboard tech and this will work for most assistive tech.
  • understandable – eg. Make content readable, intuitive, and predictable. Consider whether content is easy to read and navigate.
  • robust – eg. Maximize compatibility with current future user tools.

Accessibility is intimidating!

Accessibility is hard!

Accessibility is hard because good design is hard.

If accessibility is not my job, then whose job is it?

How do I get started?

There are a lot of things we can do to make what we design accessible. Some are straight forward, some are more complex and more time consuming. While it would be great to be able to jump in and do everything, this might not be practical. So start with what you can do and continue to learn and grow from there.

Know your audience/learners!

Ensure proper HTML markup:

  • Use heading levels.
  • Embed links in appropriate text (otherwise a screen reader will read the whole link (eg. http://….).
  • Include alt-text for graphics. Alt-text should be meaningful and clearly describe the image). Don’t use alt-text for graphics that are purely decorative.

Consider colour:

  • Think about contrast
  • Consider colour-blindness. What might be clear for you, might not be for someone else. Use Color blindness simulator to check your materials.

Don’t only rely on colour as a visual cue. Traffic lights, for example, are not great for people who are red-green colour-blind. Consider shapes as well (eg. stop sign rather than stop light).

Videos and audio:

  • Videos need to include closed captioning and a transcript.
  • Audio should include a transcript.
  • Videos could also include audio description (this gives a lot more information, describing what is happening on the screen, not just what is being said). See the video of the Frozen trailer with audio description.

Most authoring tools have accessibility features as well. Make sure you learn how to use them. Consider whether the activity you’re creating is appropriate for all learners. If not, you might need to re-think the activity or design an alternative.

One thing to note is that you might need to order the way in which a screen reader will tab through the webpage or interactive you have created. Not all authoring tools allow you to change this order, so if yours doesn’t then it might not be very accessible to the learner.

There is more that could be added here, but I think that’s enough for a start.

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Nathaniel Written by:

Nathaniel is passionate about people reaching their full potential. He has expertise and experience in education, e-learning, face-to-face and online facilitation, virtual mentoring, training, leadership and school governance.