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If you go looking for e-learning accessibility standards, you’ll see a certain four-letter acronym over and over again: WCAG. In this post, we’ll cover what WCAG is, why it’s important, and how you can apply it to your e-learning.

What Is WCAG?

WCAG stands for “web content accessibility guidelines.” They’re a set of standards for making web content, including e-learning courses published to the web, more accessible.

Unlike Section 508, which is part of a U.S. law, WCAG standards are optional best practices maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an organization focused on developing open web standards. While not a requirement, WCAG is an important tool for e-learning developers who want to build accessible courses.

OK, that seems simple enough, but things can get tricky when you start digging in to WCAG documentation. In addition to the 29-page document that lays out the standards, there’s an even longer document to help explain the first one!

At a high level, WCAG has four sections: the principles of accessible design, the guidelines themselves, success criteria for levels of conformance, and specific implementation techniques. Let’s take a closer look.

Accessibility Principles & Guidelines

According to WCAG documentation, accessible web content follows four principles: it’s perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Twelve guidelines fall under these four principles—each with their own subguidelines.

Here’s how each of these principles applies to e-learning, as well as a sample of some relevant guidelines that fall into each category.

Perceivable

Learners need to be able to access the information that’s presented. All parts of your course should be available to them regardless of their ability to see, hear, or touch. Guidelines for making your e-learning more perceivable include:

  • adding alt-text to images, buttons, and other objects in your course
  • making sure color is not the only visual means of communicating information
  • providing learners with the ability to resize text

Operable

Learners need to be able to perform all of the actions required of them in the course. Guidelines for making your e-learning more operable include:

  • providing keyboard-only navigation options
  • giving learners the option to skip timed exercises
  • making it possible to navigate your course in multiple ways
  • avoiding course design elements that may cause seizures, such as flashing lights
  • using section headings to organize content

Understandable

Learners need to be able to understand both the content of the course and how to navigate the user interface. Guidelines for making your e-learning more understandable include:

  • making it possible for screen readers to determine the language used in your course
  • providing learners with good instructions when requesting their input
  • building consistent navigation and identification throughout your course

Robust

Course content must make sense to assistive technologies such as screen readers. Guidelines for making your e-learning more robust include:

  • publishing courses to well-formatted HTML output
  • assigning names, roles, and values to all elements in your course

Conformance Levels

Each of the WCAG guidelines, such as the ones listed above, is organized into one of three levels: A, AA, or AAA. It’s a common misunderstanding that Level A guidelines are “good,” Level AA guidelines are “better,” and Level AAA guidelines are “the best”; in reality, it’s a bit more nuanced than that.

The WCAG level system accounts for all the factors one might consider when prioritizing the list of guidelines, including their goals and any logistical, technical, and resource limitations they might have. Here’s how to think about the guidelines at each level.

Level A Guidelines

This is the low-hanging fruit. As a best practice, all of your e-learning should meet Level A guidelines. These guidelines are easy to implement, and doing so makes your e-learning accessible to a broad range of folks in different demographics. It’s a win-win!

Level AA Guidelines

These are more specialized and trickier to implement. Applying these guidelines affects a smaller group, but the changes have a big impact on those individuals. You should strive to make your e-learning meet Level AA guidelines as much as you’re able.

Level AAA Guidelines

These can be tough (and sometimes expensive!) to implement, and the changes impact a very specific group. Whether you decide to follow Level AAA guidelines really depends on the needs of your learners and organization.

How Can I Build WCAG-Compliant E-Learning with Articulate Apps?

When you understand which guidelines are important to implement, it’s easy to make your Storyline and Studio courses WCAG compliant. You can read a full breakdown of how Storyline courses meet WCAG requirements at the A and AA levels right here, and see how to design an accessible course in the app in this helpful post.

We’re also working on updates to Rise, our web-based responsive authoring tool, that will help you build WCAG-compliant courses. They’re coming soon.

All of these authoring apps are available with a subscription to Articulate 360. You can read our Articulate 360 accessibility FAQs for more details.

Further Reading

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