Four best practices for building accessible learning products
A blog from Learnosity
All learners have the right to an equal playing field—yet not all have equal access to education. One billion people, or 15% of the world’s total population, experience some form of disability. The need for accessibility is just too great to ignore.
When building learning products, many treat accessibility as something to be bolted on at the end of the design process. As we’ll discuss, that’s a bad idea for several reasons.
Learnosity has invested a lot of time and expertise making assessments more accessible, so we’re sharing our insights on how to create a more inclusive learning experience.
1. Go beyond the guidelines
Making a product more accessible means making it more usable—which is why inclusive learning products are simply better learning products.
Different accessibility legislation applies to your product depending on where you play—such as the US’s Section 508, the UK’s Equality Act 2010, and the EU’s EN 301 549—but the most universally referenced technical standards for working towards legal compliance can be found in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
However, it’s widely understood that compliance to WCAG is not directly equal to accessible. Because users don’t experience guidelines, they experience products. Going further than the guidelines will ensure that your learning product is not only “theoretically” usable, but also practical for day-to-day usage for all users—including those with disabilities.
Ultimately, treat accessibility as you do any user experience and base your priorities on user impact.
2. Refine a process for inclusive design
Accessibility should be built in, not bolted on.
Accessibility should be a natural part of any product discussion and intertwined in all user-facing projects. Tacking on accessibility at the end of the process can have inefficient, insufficient, and potentially costly results.
When determining the value of building accessibility from the very beginning, it’s helpful to keep the 1:10:100 Rule in mind. In short, this rule states that for every $1 you spend on preventing a design issue, it’ll save $10 on correcting that issue, and ultimately save $100 on fixing a failure in a live product. That’s the cost of quality.
Creating a solid process for developing accessible products requires the following steps:
● Foster an inclusive company culture by making accessibility a standing priority for engineering, UX, support, and product teams and encouraging cross-team collaboration through development.
● Create an accessibility spec, a document that dissects a design and looks at familiar accessibility considerations, before starting a project.
● Engage the services of a third party auditor to get an objective appraisal of your accessibility processes.
● Continuously innovate and remediate—because accessibility is a never-ending journey.
Baking accessibility into your standard practices should be a no-brainer. This policy saves you from labor-intensive refactoring further down the road.
3. Follow these assistive technology requirements
When it comes to education, learners need specific functionality.
Existing technology holds the potential to make education accessible to everyone—but that doesn’t mean accessibility is a given. For example, the Bureau of Internet Accessibility’s a11y® analysis platform identified failures with 66% of WCAG 2.1 checkpoints on the websites of New York City public high schools.
In our journey to powering over 130 modern learning platforms, Learnosity has identified the key functionality for making a learning product as accessible as possible:
● Color contrast designed for color-blind and low vision users.
● Keyboard usability for accessible input and navigation.
● Screen reader support for the leading tools on each platform.
● Transcripts, closed captions and alternate videos for accessible audio content.
● Adjustable fonts to improve legibility for users with reading difficulties.
It’s worth remembering that non-accessible users also benefit greatly from accessibility features; for example, color contrast improves everyday usage for sighted users too, such as those in dim or very bright environments.
Because users are disabled by environments, not impairments.
4. Ask vendors the right questions
Any company you work with needs to have the same level of commitment to accessibility as you do—or they may leave you vulnerable to noncompliance issues.
A crucial piece of documentation to seek is a VPAT (or Voluntary Product Accessibility Template), which is a voluntary document that states their conformance to WCAG.
While a VPAT helps communicate their efforts, you need to be aware that it’s a very high level overview of their product or service’s overall accessibility. That’s why it’s important to go further to probe a vendor’s dedication to accessibility.
Here are a few key questions to ask your vendors: ● Do you have a VPAT? If so, do you have the appropriate version?
● What’s your roadmap for future accessibility enhancements?
● If we discover accessibility issues in your product or service, will you address them?
Perfect product accessibility does not exist, but you need to confirm that whatever vendors you engage have an ongoing commitment to evolve in step with regulations