(508 Compliance) How do you format scripts for clients who want a text-only option for employees?

Nov 29, 2017

Hi everyone! I'm researching some 508 related issues based on a lot of client requests we've had this year, and I thought I'd pick y'all's brains for some ideas. 

Even though Storyline courses are 508 friendly through a JAWS reader, we still get quite a few requests from clients for a script that they can give to their employees who request it -- either because they prefer to read text, or are ESL, or hard-of-hearing, or visually impaired, etc. Whatever the reason, it's been odd how many requests we get for that. 

Usually, we just send a PDF'd version of the Word Output from Storyline but I don't think that format is very user friendly, especially when we get to non-linear courses, or those that are quiz-based learning (you answer questions, and learn through the feedback). 

So we had an idea for a storyboard/script combo that includes an image of the slide, plus the narration text or the text that appears on the slide (if there is no narration). But would this work with screen readers? Will a screenreader work left to right to accommodate the Slide Number, Slide Title, Image and Slide Text?

And then the challenge arises with non-linear courses, or the kinds where users can test-out of sections. How do you format scripts/storyboards to show the possible paths in a way that makes sense for users who can't go through the training in its intended form? 

Any ideas or thoughts or resources you can recommend? 

Thank you! 

4 Replies
Julie Stelter

Hi Ashley,

Great question!

  • A screen reader will read a table in Word from left to right, top to bottom.
  • PDFs can be made accessible to screen readers but you need Adobe Acrobat to publish the PDF and the knowledge on how to make the PDF accessible. For this reason, I tell my clients to use Word because that is accessible (and you can test its accessibility within Word). 

A course published in Word will not be valuable to someone who is visually-impaired through complete or some degree of blindness. They won't be able to track the content in a non-linear course, as you said, and you would need to provide alt tags for the images in the Word document. 

To accommodate levels of blindness, the course has to be made accessible to a screen reader.

Note: There are other visual impairments such as color blindness, which is the most prevalent accessibility issue and one that is often ignored.

So for those clients who want a Word document for visually-impaired people, you'll need to explain that the most accessible version and the only one that will make sense to a visually impaired person is the eLearning course itself. By offering a linear design of a non-linear course defeats the entire effort and would not be considered accessible to a visually-impaired user. You need to be absolutely confident that the eLearning course is accessible to a screenreader and makes sense to a person who is blind. The 2 are not synonymous.

If the client wants the Word document for another reason such as they have people who prefer to read text on paper, are ELL (English Language Learners), or hard-of-hearing, the Word doc you are creating could be very valuable because they have vision. It would need to be explained to these users that the printout is not necessarily the order of the course and they will have to jump to different rows and pages in the table. Because they have vision, they can use the screenshot to help them track as well as a well-designed menu. In a non-linear course, this person could use the course and printout simultaneously or take the course first and then look at the print-out. 

I applaud you for your efforts! I encourage you to keep the value of the eLearning course in tact using excellent universal design principles. Everyone will benefit from this approach.



Ashley Schwartau

Hi Julie! Thanks so much for your thoughtful and detailed response! 

I agree about the word docs; it's just been requested enough times in the past that we have them on hand for whoever would want them. From the clients who have requested them specifically for 508 reasons was usually for deaf employees, or blind employees who were tired of fighting the screen readers with the interactivity and just wanted to listen to the content. They took care of tracking things manually in those cases (from what I understand). 

We've been hearing some reports that screen readers aren't interacting with quiz slides very well. Do you have any experience or further advice or other resources we could use to research ways to make the quiz slides function better for screen readers? 

We've had some clients request "podcast" versions of courses, in the past, for visually-impaired users, but that doesn't help with non-linear or branching courses. :-/ 

Additionally, do you have any recommendations for learning more about universal design concepts? Many of our in-development products are non-linear or game-like that require heavy interaction from the user for completion, including answering knowledge checks or mini-quizzes to test out of sections, choosing paths in a scenario-based learning challenge (like choose your own adventure), and text-based non-linear courses. So for those, we are researching resources to help us do our due diligence on making them accessible when possible. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!!! :)

Funny that you bring up color-blindness; our company's founder is colorblind and he's always been very involved with our production team, so we are all well-versed in what to avoid, otherwise he points it out very loudly. :)

Julie Stelter

Hi Ashley,

I almost missed this post. If I do in the future just pm me. 

You bring up so many good points showing meeting accessibility compliance does not always mean that it is accessible to the user. There was another thread about dyslexia that demonstrated this paradox. 

When I'm building for screen reader accessibility in Storyline, I always use custom navigation so that the user does not need to go to the player. I have found that the storyline player can be touchy in a screen reader. Sometimes the tabbing pops into the browser window, for example. Ughh! So in all slides I keep the learner on the screen, including quiz slides. These have custom submit buttons, incorrect, correct layers, and forward, backward. I give menu-like commands on some navigation buttons. For example, in the last forward arrow of the section (alt tag) "You have reached the end of the section, click forward to go to section titled ___". I know this isn't the best answer to your first question but I do try to avoid that player.

Another related solution is to create a transparent shape as the first tab on a slide. The alt text can orientate the user to what will happen on the slide and how to advance. Since it is transparent it is only accessed by a keyboard user. This is a similar solution to what I was saying above about the custom navigation. Both can tell the user what is to come in the course and what just happened (credit to Josh Y. for this idea)

For universal design support, I have joined linked in groups on universal design and UX design (universal experience). Universal design tends to focus on websites rather than elearning. There is some obvious crossover points but other details you can't control in a rapid authoring tool. But it is a good source. UX design is more applicable to elearning because they tend to focus on things that an elearning developer can control. However UX is not necessarily accessible design. It is a conundrum for sure. 

University of Washington has a Center for Universal Design in Education. Lots of good stuff coming out of there. The issue is it is focused on K-12 and university education which does not always use gamification and multiple branching scenario designs. There is also good things coming out of IAAP. Currently, I'm working on a CPACC (Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies) which does not go into the details of website code so it is very helpful to developing elearning.

The door is wide open for grassroots solutions. Keep up the great work!




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