Accessibility in e-learning design – time for some standards?

I might be missing something here but after spending the last 15 years working in e-learning and new media it is still far more common to have a conversation about accessibility when talking to a client about a website than a piece of e-learning. Website design has made great strides in supporting usbaility standards, although it still has work to do. With all the different platforms, browsers and technologies it is difficult to achieve complete standards compliance but it does appear to be a common theme in the web design areas. Within e-learning its just doesn’t seem to have the same importance at the moment.

We have worked with e-learning teams where we have created levels of content to provide as much access as possible. NCSL is a fine example of an organisation that has a really clear set of guidelines for developers that includes their position on accesible content. These guidelines help everyone involved are opened up for developers to suggest improvements and also to challenge.

I’m sure that accesibility is a consideration for lots of learning providers, developers and trainers but it doesn’t seem to have the same weight within e-learning. A simple google search saw these results for the term accesiibility e-learning (7,280,000 results) website accessibility (64,500,000) – quite a difference. There are clearly a number of practitioners and researchers carrying out a great deal of work in this area and my google search is hardly a thorough piece of research but I did find the numbers interesting. I’ve got lots of friends and colleagues in the industry who are looking at accessibility but does the industry really discuss what’s needed?

Has the time come for the e-learning industry to look a set of standards relating to accessibility for e-learning design could help? A set of design standards and good practice might also bring some balance to the tender process where so much of the evaluation process is based on price. I know that lots of e-learning practitioners are carrying out great work in this area but isn’t time we all come together?

Thoughts?

During my web searches I found several interesting links and articles:

http://www.skillsforaccess.org.uk/

http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/elearningpedagogy.aspx

http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue51/ball-rvw/

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Accessibility in e-learning design – time for some standards?

3 Responses

  1. When it comes to accessibility I have always relied on 508 compliance, but I also believe, and welcome, specific standards as they relate to e-learning.

    However, outside of courses made for the federal government, I do not think many designers are even concerning themselves with 508 let alone more specific standards. Here was my take on it several months back – http://minutebio.com/blog/tag/508-compliance/

    Thanks for the post and hopefully we will get there.

    Jeff Goldman August 12, 2009 at 6:29 pm #
  2. Thanks for the post Geoff. As an industry we definately need to pay more attention to accessibility issues. The multiple browsers often make it difficult to get everything to display but with the advent of more stable web standards this should become easier.

    admin August 13, 2009 at 9:46 am #
  3. Thought provoking post. You got more Google hits for website accessibility because, I guess, there’s more of that stuff being developed than elearning materials, but it is still food for thought.

    Until recently I would have put this lack of movement/interest down to the fact that many elearning developers use Flash and similar products, which don’t offer any accessibility options (not even users being able to increase font size). Many of the new rapid tools work on the same basis. Text to speech converters, for example, seldom seem to work with some of these packages.

    Here’s my 0.2 on what we might be looking for:

    Ability to hear text as speech
    Change font size
    Change colour pallets and contrast
    Ability to use keybd and switches instead of mouse clicks

    People are trying to get to grips with accessibility in elearning development though – the Xerte tool from Nottingham University is a good example (and it’s free from here: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/xerte/). You might also want to look at what techDIS are doing also – http://www.techdis.ac.uk/

    When thinking about accessibility I always go back to this old saw and use it as starting point:

    How does someone who cannot use a mouse highlight a word in a Word Document and change its attributes – from plain text to bold/underlined? Try it – it’s very difficult.

    Rob Alton August 19, 2009 at 3:30 pm #

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