When you’re building an accessible e-learning course, one requirement is that your content work on screen readers. (If you’re not familiar with screen readers, check out this article before continuing: Accessible E-Learning & Screen Readers: What You Need to Know.) 

If you’re using Articulate apps to build your course, you’re in luck! Rise 360 and Storyline 360 courses work automatically on a variety of screen readers

However, it’s still a good idea to test each new course you create. It’s always a good idea to test your e-learning courses in the same environment as your learners to ensure they’re getting a good experience. For accessible courses, this includes testing them out with a screen reader.

But if you’ve never used this kind of tool before, testing your course with one can be a challenge. After all, unlike your learners, you’re not used to screen readers, so you don’t know what to expect. 

That’s why we’ve got you covered! In this article, we’ll walk you through what to do, step by step. Here goes.

1. Get Comfortable with Your Screen Reader

Before you get started, it’s important to set aside some time to understand the technology and get familiar with the controls so you don’t feel confused and overwhelmed when you go to test your course. To get to know the screen reader your learners are using, follow these steps:

  1. Screen readers are software, so you can easily download and install one if it’s not already on your device. If you know which screen reader the majority of your learners use, grab that one. If not, head over to this article for more information on the most popular screen readers.
  2. Learn the basic keyboard shortcuts (for computers) or multitouch gestures (for touchscreen devices) for your screen reader. 
  3. Close your eyes and try “reading” something like a Wikipedia article just to get a feel for the experience.
  4. When you’re done, make note of anything that stood out to you. You might notice, for example:
    • How the screen reader often provides context for what it’s reading by saying whether it’s part of the site navigation, a heading, a list, a link, etc.
    • Some screen readers read punctuation out loud (dash, comma, etc.).
    • Some screen readers (like NVDA and JAWS) stop reading after 100 characters. If you’d like it to continue, you can customize this setting or use the down arrow to continue reading.

The big takeaway is to spend some time getting to know the screen reader your learners will be using. By testing out your course with the same screen reader your learners use, you’ll have a better feel for how it works and what your learners can expect.

2. Learn How Your Course Is Designed to Work with Screen Readers

For the most part, screen readers interact with e-learning course content the same way they do websites. However, depending on the authoring app you use to create your course, there might be some differences. If that’s the case, it’s important that you be aware of them so you know what to expect.

If you’re using Articulate apps, check out these articles for more information:

3. Review Your Course with a Screen Reader

Now that you’ve taken the screen reader your learners will be using for a trial run and you’ve read up on how your course content works with screen readers, you’re ready to test-drive your course.

First, make sure your screen reader is activated. Then, launch your course. From there, close your eyes and move through the course as a learner would—using the keyboard shortcuts or multitouch gestures. 

When you open your course, start by quickly going through all the content on the first slide. Screen reader users often move through the entire content of a page (or in this case, a slide) to get a feel for how it’s set up before deciding what to do. Test out this experience and see what it’s like. 

Then, start over and review the slide slowly, listening to the audio description for each item one by one. Continue moving through your course in this way, ensuring that you’re able to make it through from start to finish without getting stuck. As you go along, ask yourself the questions outlined in this article: A Checklist for QA Testing Courses with a Screen Reader.

If you run into technical difficulties, follow these troubleshooting steps:

  1. Check your screen reader’s user manual to ensure you’re using the keyboard commands correctly. 
  2. Review the information provided by your authoring app vendor about how content should behave and determine if what you’re seeing is expected or not. (See the article links in the previous section for Articulate apps.)
  3. Reach out to your authoring app vendor. If you created your course using Articulate apps, feel free to reach out to our support team. They’ll be happy to help you figure out what’s going on.

4. Ask a Screen Reader User to Review Your Course

Once you’ve reviewed your course with a screen reader and made any necessary adjustments, it’s a good idea to ask someone who’s familiar with screen readers to review your course as well. If there’s no one on the project team who fits the bill, try reaching out to professional accessibility testers. 

People who are accustomed to consuming content in this way are sure to give you helpful feedback about the experience. Ask them to make note of any areas where they felt lost, the navigation was confusing, or the content was hard to understand. 

The Bottom Line

Using a screen reader to access an e-learning course is a completely different experience than clicking through a course with your mouse and taking it in visually. The only way to ensure that the learning experience is a great one is to test it out for yourself. 

Looking for more tips on creating and testing your accessible courses? Check out these helpful resources:

Do you have any experience testing your e-learning courses on screen readers? We’d love to hear how it went. Let us know in the comments!

Want to try building an accessible e-learning course in Articulate apps, but don’t have Articulate 360? Start a free 30-day trial, and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning. If you have any questions, please share them in the comments.