Accessibility in L&D: Why accessible training matters for instructional designers

From onboarding to upskilling, the L&D world is now dominated by training content that’s built with authoring software and housed in an LMS—but does that mean it’s accessible?

Since eLearning and similar practices became associated with the shift to remote working, it’s been easy to assume that—in accessibility terms—the heavy lifting has already been done. After all, eLearning courses can be taken from the comfort of your home, completed at your own pace, and (if your authoring tool is fully responsive) accessed via a device you feel comfortable with.

However, while the shift to online learning may remove some barriers, employees who need training accessibility accommodations for a mixture of auditory, physical, cognitive, visual, and speech-related disabilities are still encountering obstacles. In other words: web accessibility should now be at the forefront of every instructional designer’s agenda, influencing everything from the content they create to the tools they use to make it.

As such, there’s never been a better time to ask: what does accessibility really mean in the world of eLearning? And why does it matter?

What is accessibility in a training context?

In general terms, accessibility is about ensuring that people experiencing a disability are able to use a product or service with as much ease as possible.

In the world of eLearning, things get a little more specific. Instructional designers and learning teams need to think about web accessibility, which, according to the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C WAI), “means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them.”

The organization adds that “using” these technologies involves understanding and interacting with them. Both of these principles have a huge bearing on the work of L&D professionals, which inevitably involves creating content that learners can understand and (you guessed it!) interact with.

Crucially, it’s worth remembering that technology is only half the battle. You’ll need to select software capable of delivering accessible content, but you’ll also need to ensure you’re using the full potential of those accessible features if you want to distribute robust eLearning to as many people as possible.

Distribute your courses with flair! Here’s how:

How to master eLearning content distribution with Gomo

3 reasons why training accessibility is important

First and foremost, taking steps toward accessibility in training and development is just the right thing to do. Everybody deserves a chance to learn, grow, and develop, and that’s why authoring tools like Gomo are continuously working to improve their eLearning accessibility features and functionality.

Even when you look beyond the moral dimension, however, there are a host of practical benefits to making your content as accessible as possible, from regulatory requirements to productivity enhancements.

1) Accessibility compliance requirements are growing

Fines and lawsuits can be pretty powerful motivators, and legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) motivates organizations to keep web resources like eLearning accessible.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, there was a 320% rise in ADA-related lawsuits between 2013 and 2020. In fact, 2020 alone saw 2,500 lawsuits related to inaccessible websites.

For organizations looking to steer clear of financial and legal penalties, there are international standards and recommendations for improving web accessibility. For example, the W3C WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, also known as WCAG, are made up of four key design principles. WCAG-compliant web content is:

  • Perceivable
  • Operable
  • Understandable
  • Robust

Each of these guiding principles can be met through the use of appropriate technologies and practices. Perceivable web content, for instance, might make use of alt text or video captions, while operability could involve keyboard-only functionality to support users who can’t use a mouse (or alternative pointing device).

To meet WCAG standards, you’ll need to think about the tools you use to create and host your eLearning content and ensure they offer the features required to make your training perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

Want to keep your courses inclusive? Read this short article:

Localized and blended: How to build eLearning courses everyone can enjoy

2) Inclusivity helps to maintain morale

Complying with accessibility standards isn’t just about keeping regulators happy—it’s about demonstrating that you care about your learners’ experiences. Accessibility is a tangible and thoughtful commitment to a form of inclusion that speaks to the character of your organization, and every member of your workforce will appreciate the effort you put in.

After all, accessible learning content isn’t just useful for staff with existing disabilities. W3C WAI points to a range of accessibility benefits for people who have temporary conditions and impairments like:

  • Broken bones
  • Age-related concerns
  • Internet bandwidth constraints
  • Restricted device options
  • Situation-specific limitations in bright or noisy environments

More broadly, you’ll find that your people like working for an employer that commits to accessible practices—and that goodwill comes with organization-wide benefits. Research from the Boston Consulting Group has, for example, found that 81% of employees who feel their workplace is inclusive are also happy in their jobs. In turn, a recent psychological study has found that worker happiness can positively impact job performance in activities like cross-selling.

As such, producing accessible training is so much more than a chore. It represents an inclusive culture capable of producing happy, cared-for, and more productive employees.

3) Accessible practices boost training outcomes

Amid all the legal and morale-based implications of accessible training, it’s easy to miss the woods for the eLearning trees. Above and beyond any other concerns, accessible training ensures that every employee is able to complete their eLearning courses—and it’s hard to overstate the value of a workforce that engages with, absorbs, and retains new skills and useful knowledge.

There’s no question that learners instinctively recognize the value and appeal of online learning. As McKinsey notes, demand for online learning among education providers is growing, while academic research suggests that student experiences with online learning can produce better results than traditional approaches. Plus, unsurprisingly, studies show that good training design and delivery positively impact employee performance.

The business benefits of a workforce willing to take full advantage of this popular and effective form of learning are clear. However, none of these advantages will come to fruition unless learners are able to fully engage with the online training they’re assigned.

As such, the value of a good training program is only realized when the interactions and media that make your courses so memorable are easily accessed, and when learning is presented in a way that works for employees with visual and auditory disabilities.

In short: accessibility in learning and development is an essential means of ensuring that your employees can, in fact, learn and develop!

Discover ways to engage your cohorts:

5 easy ways to create engaging eLearning

Want to know how to make your training accessible?

This blog post was just a taste of our full ebook: ‘Accessibility in training and development: 8 steps toward inclusive eLearning.’ Download the full ebook to discover exactly how to make your training accessible and realize the compliance-, morale-, and training outcome-related benefits detailed above.

About the author: Simon Waldram

As Product Manager at Gomo, I’m passionate about delivering value at every interaction and to increase sustainable proven value for our customers and business.

I have extensive experience of working within both the commercial and educational sectors, and approach all projects with a strategic mind.

This combination of education and commercial experience has enabled me to stay at the leading edge of emerging technologies to ensure that customers are provided with a framework for success.

Download our ebook for more accessibility tips and tricks

We use cookies to give you the best website experience possible, including integration with social media and relevant advertising tailored to you. For more information on this and on how we use your personal data, please read the full Privacy and Cookies Policy.