Providing online training that is accessible to
individuals with disabilities is a critical component of any online
training program. Fortunately, its not very difficult to increase
the accessibility of online courses for learners whose disabilities
may affect their web-based training needs. With nearly 57 percent
of people with disabilities employed, organizations should be
practicing ADA-compliant design in their e-learning-based training
American with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation
Lets begin by reviewing a few key standards outlined under the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act:
- The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with
disabilities in the workforce and provides equal employment
opportunity to people with disabilities.
- Section 902 of the ADA defines the term disability as a
physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more
of the major life activities of such an individual, or having a
record of such impairment or being regarded as having such an
- Employers are required to make reasonable modifications to
policies, practices, and procedures where necessary to avoid
discrimination unless they can demonstrate that doing so would
fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity
- Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination
on the basis of disability in programs conducted by federal
agencies and requires electronic and information technology
designed, developed, and delivered to be accessible to persons with
ADA-compliant design strategies
When creating an ADA-compliant training program, designers need to
create interesting, usable, and engaging content for people both
with and without disabilities. The idea behind ADA-compliant design
is much like traditional instructional design and web design, with
an emphasis on accommodating individuals with disabilities.
The key to delivering solid ADA-compliant training is not to
over-stimulate the senses. Rather, emphasize key aspects of the
training components that will capture specific senses. The
principals of universal design can be used to enhance
accessibility. (Universal design is the idea that if we design
products that can be used by all people without the need for
adaptation or specialized design, we maximize benefits for all
people and abilities. As a training developer, you can integrate
universal design into your e-learning-based training program
through paying special attention to your visuals, audio, text,
links, and color.)
Delivering learning material through a video tutorial is a great
way to engage the user in online training. However, persons with
disabilities may not have an equal opportunity to learn if the
training program isnt up to ADA-compliant standards.
For a person who is visually impaired, videos are a great tool to
deliver learning material. To make the video engaging for these
learners, you can use multiple narrators and recognizable sounds to
stimulate auditory engagement. Using multiple narrators in the
video provides an element of suspense and diversity, which will
help to capture users attention. By making the audio interesting,
individuals with visual impairments will be able to engage with the
e-learning course. A Braille version of the online course also can
be a great supplement.
Section 508 requires that all images have text descriptions that
describe what the image is. This can be accomplished through the
use of the alternative (alt) tag. Having an alt tag attached to an
image informs people with visual impairments of what the image is
through the interpretation of their screen reader. Simply providing
an alt tag to an image provides a descriptive option for learning
Along with keeping alt tags up to date, you also should use
attractive and current images. Dated images will confuse the user,
which could potentially lose their interest. People who have
learning disabilities and difficulty focusing for long periods of
time will benefit from having up-to-date images.
You can use several techniques to increase the accessibility of
videos used in an e-learning program. To best cater to learners
with auditory impairments, always provide close-captioning or a
printable version of the videos script. A printable version of the
training course is easy to create and can be a great supplement for
someone with auditory impairments.
As for the visual content of the video, keep it descriptive and
stay away from brightly colored images, such as neon colors. Also,
take into account the time of day you are filming. If youre filming
outside, consider filming in the morning or at dusk to avoid harsh
lighting, which often make the video difficult to see on a computer
Quality audio is important for all training programs and can help
to provide consistent training for all employees. Because audio is
a non-visual element, it is important to supplement all audio with
text and all text with audio. The reason for this is twofold.
First, if a learner has an auditory impairment, he may rely
primarily on the screens text to receive the information contained
in the training, and therefore the screen text must communicate
fully the key points shared in the audio. Similarly, learners who
are visually impaired need audio that includes all key points that
are presented through text in the training.
The second benefit of matching audio to text is that it appeals to
two very different learning styles. Auditory learners learn best
through listening, while visual learners learn best through
reading. By providing audio and text that are consistent, the key
messages are accessible to both the visually and the auditory
impaired, as well as to both visual and auditory learning styles.
Its important to use an engaging narrator to record your audio.
Selecting a narrator with a professional, comfortable, and engaging
voice increases the e-learnings appeal to all learners. If the
training program consists of several lessons, consider using
multiple narrators to add variety and keep learners from becoming
bored by hearing the same voice over and over. In addition, the
audio in the program should be clear, concise, and not overdone.
Its a good rule of thumb to use only one narrator if theres minimal
content. If there is a scenario-based video included in a training
program, use multiple narrators where you see fit.
There are at least 2.5 million Americans who are blind or have low
vision who use computers. Through the use of screen readers and
other devices, e-learning is a great tool for delivering training
to the visually impaired. However, it is important for designers to
have a working knowledge of how to develop screen text that screen
readers can read easily.
A screen reader is an application used to interpret and read
information on a computer monitor screen. These devices are
incredibly beneficial to auditory learners or people with visual
impairments. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires an
option for users to select if they want to disable the screen
reader. While it is an effective application, people should have
the option to disable their screen reader. For example, periods
should be added after headings, labels, and items in a bulleted
format to cue the screen reader to pause. Furthermore, avoiding the
use of basic text symbols, such as ampersands and percentage signs,
The size, style, and organization of text are also important.
Keeping the text layout uncluttered and consistent from page to
page increases accessibility for learners with cognitive or
When selecting a font type, sans serif fonts such as Arial or
Helvetica are ideal. New training developers often try to use fonts
that are interesting and unique, which can be impractical and
difficult to read on a computer monitor. A sans serif font will
cause less strain on the eyes, making the content more inviting.
This allows learners to focus more on the content than the font
while increasing accessibility for visually impaired learners.
Links are an essential part of many online training courses because
they provide users with external, dynamic information to supplement
the courses content. However, some learners may be left confused by
a link if it is labeled incorrectly. This can be overcome by making
links descriptive. Instead of labeling the link as Click Here,
title it with a description of the externally linked information.
Users with cognitive disabilities also can benefit from having
descriptive links because these allow them to recognize the links
as connections between both sets of information.
When used effectively, color can greatly enhance an e-learning
program. There are a few strategies you should follow to make sure
you are using color to your best advantage.
Its best to use a dark-colored text on a light-colored background.
This increases the contrast between the text and the background
while providing visually impaired individuals with enhanced
accessibility to the information. There are two ways to check to
ensure the color used in the training program is viewable to
colorblind learners: Print out the training program in black or
white or view the training program on a black-and-white monitor.
Doing so will give a good indication of whether or not the color is
being used effectively.
Interactive elements are important to the success of an e-learning
program. They help maintain learners interest and can be used to
check for understanding and reinforce key lesson content throughout
the lesson. However, its important to structure activities so they
are accessible to individuals with mobility disabilities.
Activities that require learners to click on small buttons may be
difficult for learners who lack fine motor control.
Several techniques are available to you to enhance accessibility in
this area. First, allow ample time for learners to complete
activities and tests. Timed tests may be difficult for some
learners. Including larger, clickable icons can enhance ease of
Tying it together
To determine whether your program is accessible to individuals with
disabilities, consider working with employees who have identified
themselves as disabled and who are willing to be included in a
pilot group. Many colleges and universities have centers designed
to help increase accessibility of their programs to students of all
backgrounds, and they may be able to serve as a valuable resource
When working with your volunteer pilot group, follow up the trial
run with disability-specific questions. For example, ask people
with visual impairments what they thought of the audio, how well
the content was organized, whether they could clearly understand
the narrator, and what their overall learning experience was.
Many resources are available online to help you develop training
that is accessible to all employees. The strategies we have
discussed are only the start of developing comprehensive e-learning
programs accessible to everyone, regardless of ability. Through
continuous questioning and exploration, training designers and
developers can provide training that is informative and engaging to
all employees that meets ADA and 508 compliance standards.