If you need to develop an accessible e-learning course, you should make sure that your content can be accessed by those with visual impairments. This means you’ll want to create e-learning content that works well with a screen reader. Getting acquainted with the screen reader experience will hopefully give you a deeper understanding of how some of your learners access and experience e-learning content, and how you can improve that learning experience. This article will give you a primer on what a screen reader is, how it works, and why it’s important to test your e-learning content with it.
What is a screen reader?
A screen reader is a software application that helps people with visual impairments use a computer. Visual impairments cover a wide spectrum, including low vision, color blindness, and total blindness. These impairments make it difficult or impossible for some learners to interact with a computer monitor. The screen reader software works with the computer’s operating system to provide information to the learner about what’s happening on the monitor. A computer-generated voice reads aloud the icons, text, files, menu options, dialog boxes, and other on-screen objects the user can’t see.
How does a screen reader work?
The first step is to install the screen reading software on the computer. There are a few commonly known screen readers:
- JAWS (Job Access With Speech): JAWS is the industry-standard screen reading software. This software must be purchased.
- NVDA (Non-Visual Desktop Access): NVDA is free, open-source screen reading software. It was created as an alternative to the paid software.
Once the software is installed on the computer, the user can activate it. The screen reader then provides a text-to-speech (TTS) experience that translates the on-screen information into speech, which can be heard through speakers, headphones, or braille.
Users of screen readers typically rely on a combination of screen reader and operating system commands to accomplish tasks they need to do. For example, when a visually impaired learner lands on a new screen, they might quickly tab through an entire page first for an overview of the content. Then, they go back and access the specific content they want.
Here are a few short video examples of screen readers in action:
Why do you need to use a screen reader?
Using a screen reader alone to access an e-learning module results in a completely different learning experience than clicking through a course and experiencing it visually. The first time I used a screen reader and tabbed through one of my own Storyline courses, I had an epiphany. It was such a revelation to discover how different the content feels when it’s a (partial or completely) nonvisual experience. It helped me understand the importance of tab order for viewing content, of adding alternate text for images, and of providing alternatives for activities like drag-and-drops that require the learner to interact with the screen (something visually impaired people might not be able to do).
If you’re creating an accessible course, testing your content with the screen reader is a must. It will ensure your learning experience works well for those who might not be able to take part visually.
Helpful Links and Resources
Here’s a list of accessibility-related links and resources that you might find helpful.
- Designing Accessible E-Learning with Storyline 360
- Storyline 360: How to Design an Accessible Course
- Articulate Storyline and Section 508 Accessibility
- Storyline and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
- Supported Screen Readers for Viewing Content
- 6 Best Practices for Designing Accessible E-Learning
Do you have any experience using screen readers in the context of e-learning? I would love to hear about your experiences; let me know how it went in the comments.
Want to try something you learned here, but don’t have Articulate 360? Start a free 60-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.