Learning is for All: A Checklist for Accessibility

Submitted by Jessica Luzanilla on Mon, 09/26/2022
Adults learn a bit differently than children: they are self-motivated and understand the value of their education, while children typically need more engagement and are far less motivated.

Adults learn a bit differently than children: they are self-motivated and understand the value of their education, while children typically need more engagement and are far less motivated. Because of this, there are many different types of adult learning theories that are available to meet the needs of adult learners. Selecting the right one depends on the audience, learning objectives and outcomes of the desired training.

As an instructional designer, I am responsible for creating course trainings that follow these theories and principles, as well as incorporating universal design for learning to accommodate the needs and abilities of all our learners.   Universal design for learning, or UDL, is an approach that works to accommodate the needs and abilities of all learners by eliminating unnecessary barriers in the learning process.

UDL might include information that is presented in multiple modes, which in turn engages learners to learn in different ways and can also provide options to demonstrate their learning. It also allows learners to perceive, comprehend, and express their learning in a way that most benefits them and encourages them to improve in areas and skills that are not as strong.

While incorporating adult learning principles, theories, and universal design for learning, applying accessibility best practices is equally as important. All course learning and related materials, including word processing documents, presentation materials (such as PowerPoint), Adobe PDF files, data sheets, and even content found in our LMS must adhere to basic accessibility principles.

How can one apply accessibility principles to online learning? The following checklist provides some (but not all) basic accessibility standards.

Delivering proper heading structure

Appropriate use of headings on a webpage or document increases its readability and accessibility. Properly structured headings are required on all web documents, per accessibility guidelines.

Headings in course modules or other documents emphasize a page's structure and organization, which allows the user to find the information they are looking for quickly. They also help to break up long stretches of body text with subtle visual cues, which makes them easier to scan, read and use.

When correctly used and coded, they are very helpful for users that have visual disabilities and use screen-reading software.

Downloadable PDFs

Digital documents can often create barriers for individuals with disabilities. With proper training, these can be eliminated. Some tools make it easy to create accessible PDFs and some can check for the accessibility in existing PDFs. Adobe’s Acrobat tool has ways to check for accessibility and provides clear instructions on how to fix accessibility issues. It also has ways of verifying whether the document conforms to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 guidelines.

Alternative text

Alternative text (also known as alt text) is a word or a phrase that can be inserted as an attribute in an HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) document to tell viewers the nature or contents of an image. It helps people who use assistive technology understand images and is an important part of the WCAG.

Adding the alt attribute to an image clearly describes what it is depicting. The code may look something like this:

alt=”The Summit at Pikes Peak”

A screen reader would read the text provided inside the attribute’s opening and closing quotes and would be something like “Image of the summit at Pike’s Peak.” This gives the user using assistive technology a description of the image that is present and what the image’s content contains. 

Creating lists with bullet or number list tools

Simply put, bullet or numbered lists display a series of items with a heading that is broken up by either dotted points or numbers. These lists can be used for an informal task such as a to-do list or something formal like a strategic business plan. They can keep a reader’s attention by allowing the user to quickly scan information in a condensed format.

To keep them accessible, it is best to avoid making paragraphs that look like lists using symbols or numbers. It is also important to nest the items to create a structure, using the indent button or selecting the items you want nested and then selecting the Tab (indent) or Shift + Tab (outdent). Proper use of attributes in coding, such as <ul>, <ol>, <li>, <dl>, <dd> and <dt> elements help screen readers discover lists on a page. This is a great resource that expands on Content Structure.

Highly readable fonts

Although the WCAG doesn’t define specific accessible fonts, the principle for perceivable content says that “information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.” It can serve as a basis for selecting and utilizing fonts with accessibility in mind.

With so many fonts available, there certainly is no shortage of options. Fonts such as Helvetica and Arial, are some of the more widely used fonts because they are easier to read. Some fonts that more complex and decorative are to be avoided, as they might not be as readable.

Additionally, when using an accessible font, size matters. The minimum expected font size is usually 12 points, but 16 points can improve readability for many. Avoid using bolded, italicized or otherwise stylized fonts when trying to convey meaning and have the right balance of contrast. 

Color contrast

When accessing documents, there needs to sufficient contrast between the foreground (including texts and graphics) and the background of a page. For accessibility purposes, it is recommended that a 4.5:1 ratio is followed between the foreground color and the background. This ratio certifies that people with moderately low vision can tell the colors apart and view your content.

Some contrast issues may appear in the following items:

  • Website templates or a CSS (cascading style sheets)
  • Digital and print documents
  • Text within images
  • Links
  • Color changes in interactive elements, such as links or buttons in e-learning

Provide accurate captions and transcripts

Each one of our e-learning courses in our course catalog contains captions and a course transcript that provide a text version of the audio information to help learners understand our content. It is helpful for people who are deaf, hard of hearing or have difficulty processing auditory information. It is so important to give learners another method to access learning and help meet their needs.

Transcripts are more useful when they are properly designed. The information should be put in properly structured paragraphs, lists and sections. They should also have proper navigation and be easy to find for users who are taking your course.

Closing Thoughts

Accessible e-learning makes it possible for all learners to have an opportunity to participate in educational activities. When designing online courses for adult learners, it is a best practice to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities in virtual environments. By practicing universal design in our online course offerings, we will be able to reach a larger audience of learners.

Also, if you haven’t already, I encourage you to sign up for our newsletter to hear first about our upcoming course offerings. Our next course on substance use disorders and the ADA will be available soon!

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