Accessibility is a term that is tossed around easily in our industry, but many times for the wrong reasons—and sadly, rarely comprehensively. I hope this series of articles shed some light on the subject. For those already making the effort to build accessible content, I hope the information here encourages you to delve deeper into new and updated resources.

Whether you are a designer, developer, manager, or performing some other role related to learning, you should care about all aspects of accessibility—not just for Section 508 compliance. You should know your current audience, as well as any potential audiences. More important, you need to not only understand disabilities, but also how people working with disabilities are accessing and using your content to help them learn or perform on the job.

Start With Accessible Content

In Accessibility Trumps Design, Reuben Tozman writes, “Our challenge in instructional design is to ensure that people can access what they need with the least amount of hurdles in their way.” This notion applies to those with and without disabilities. Our job as designers is to get information to people who need it, when they need it, where they need it, and how they need it. While it may be challenging, the easiest, most practical way to meet all of those requirements is to start with accessible content. You can scale up from there if significant value is added.

You will face unique challenges as you begin, such as:

  • Do you develop multiple versions of content to meet requirements for disabilities or other access issues?
  • Do you create responsive content?
  • How do you design for a large, diverse audience?

Consider the following scenario: On Emergent Radio, we only publish our podcasts in mono, which means that all sound is played equally in both sides of a headset. On a recent episode of The ToolBar, we forgot to mix the audio down to mono before publishing. This meant that the episode played in stereo, with the host and the guest on separate tracks; one being played in the right speaker, and one in the left. We heard from a listener who is nearly deaf in one ear, and therefore, could not hear one of the tracks. It's a factor we failed to consider, but it should have been a top priority.

On the flip side, we also received feedback from some listeners who really liked the stereo effect of that show. How do you handle these types of situations? Do you build multiple versions? Do you publish only the accessible version and risk alienating a part of your audience that wants more?

The More You Know...

Making your content accessible is about more than screen readers and audio scripts. And it's certainly more than checking a box in an authoring tool. Some issues you must consider when designing accessible content include:

As designers, developers, managers, subject matter experts, and (insert your role here), your primary concern should be focused on those people you support and train. You need to know your audience, and you need to be sure they can access the content you are producing in a meaningful, useful way. Bottom line: you need to care.

Here are some links to resources where you can learn more about accessibility:

You can also check out the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT). Here are VPATs for Lectora, Articulate Presenter, and Captivate. Also, take a look at Google’s Administrator Guide to Accessibility for some additional ideas and examples.

What Next?

We will continue this conversation over the next few weeks. In future articles, we’ll explore universal design; the difference between usability and accessibility; direct access vs. indirect access; and, hopefully, some concepts generated by the community. I’m learning with you as well, so please share your feedback, resources, and any corrections.

All content—web, e-learning, or other—should be accessible. Whether or not you are required by law to meet Section 508 requirements, you should make it a universal design rule to meet basic accessibility standards. Not because you want to avoid a lawsuit, but because it’s the right thing to do.