When I first started teaching, we had a training day focused on making our courses accessible to students. Many of the faculty wondered, “Why are we so focused on accessibility? How many students does this really impact? Why is it so important?” It’s not that my fellow faculty were lacking in empathy, but, rather, that they were genuinely curious. In fact, organizations and e-learning developers have to think about accessibility every day and often ask these same questions.

For those new to the concept of accessibility, let’s start with a definition. Accessibility means that people with disabilities, such as mobility, vision, or hearing impairments, can still learn the course material as well as all the other students.

Let’s take a look at four reasons why accessibility is important in e-learning.

1. 508 Compliance

If you’re working for a government organization, chances are you’re aware of 508 compliance. It’s a law that requires federal agencies (or those receiving federal funds for a project) to make their online materials, like e-learning courses and documents, accessible to people with disabilities. While more of a “stick” than a “carrot,” 508 compliance is one big reason that accessibility might be important to you!

2. Business Sense

Did you know that 26 percent of Americans live with one type of disability or another? That means that if you’re an online retailer and your website isn’t fully accessible, one in four of your potential customers can’t effectively navigate your site—and you miss out on their business.

Now, let’s look at it from another angle. As of 2018, over 30 million people (age 16 and over) in the workforce have a disability.

Think about this from a training perspective. Without accessible training, there could be a skill disparity between employees—and that’s a human capital cost. How much more capable would your workforce be if your training materials were fully accessible? Don’t ignore a portion of your workforce—they might find a more accommodating workplace with your competitors.

3. Company Morale

The “it’s the right thing to do” argument might not win over those in charge of the company budget, but there’s something to be said about caring for your fellow human beings. You might find that your employees appreciate the fact that their organization cares enough to require that training materials be accessible for all employees.

4. Improved Usability for All Learners

Many of the accessibility requirements actually end up benefiting all learners by increasing the course’s usability. For example, consistent navigation not only makes it easier for those using a screen reader to navigate your course, it makes it easier for everyone to navigate your course. Providing a transcript or closed captions for audio and video sequences benefits not only people who are deaf or hard of hearing, but also anyone taking the course in a noisy or shared environment who doesn’t have access to headphones. Using a high color contrast makes viewing e-learning content easier for people with visual impairments as well as for mobile learners who are taking the course in a bright environment. These are just a few examples of ways that applying accessibility standards can benefit learners on the whole.

The Bottom Line

Whether you’re required by law to make your e-learning courses accessible or just think it’s the right thing to do, applying accessibility standards can have a positive impact on the usability of your courses and improve employee retention.

Keep in mind, this is only a partial list of reasons accessibility matters in e-learning. We’d love to hear what you have to say about it, so please leave us a comment below. 

And if you’re interested in learning more about creating accessible courses, check out the following resources:

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