Accessibility matters across every form of web content—and eLearning authoring tools are no exception! Your learners can only benefit from content that accommodates their unique circumstances, and ensuring your courses can be experienced (and enjoyed) by as many people as possible is a critical element of a good L&D program.
That’s why it’s so important to keep accessibility in mind when you’re shopping around for an authoring tool. If your vendor isn’t up-front about the accessibility limitations of their tool, you won’t know how to use it to maximize course access for every learner—or if it’s even up to the task.
As part of Gomo’s ongoing commitment to improving accessibility for learners, we recently undertook a VPAT® audit that assessed Gomo’s learner-facing accessibility capabilities against Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1.
So, what do these guidelines mean? Where does a VPAT® come in? And, crucially, what kinds of authoring tool features make the accessibility magic happen? Let’s find out.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines explained
As the name suggests, WCAG is all about helping to achieve web accessibility. It’s a unified set of standards for accessible web content across various devices, including smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers.
The idea is that by following these recommendations, your web content—like your eLearning materials—will be much better at accommodating conditions affecting vision, speech, hearing, movement, and more.
WCAG’s guidelines are expressed via a range of different success criteria, split into four key categories. Accessible content is:
So, how do you know whether or not you’re meeting those criteria? That’s where Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates® (or VPATs®) come into play.
What does a VPAT® look like?
A VPAT® is a handy document that allows organizations to assess and explain how a given piece of technology conforms to accessibility standards. You’ll find a few different editions are available based on the accessibility standards you’re using—there are US, EU, and international variations—but we’ll focus on the WCAG version since that’s the one Gomo completed.
There are two parts to a VPAT®. The first is a product information section, detailing things like the product’s name and the date the report was published. The second (much larger) section takes the form of a table listing WCAG’s success criteria, the product’s conformance level to each criterion, and a column dedicated to further explanations.
What kind of success criteria will a VPAT® assess?
While some WCAG recommendations won’t be applicable to every product, there are plenty of success criteria that an authoring tool will need to meet in order to deliver an accessible experience for learners.
For example, you’ll want to make sure that your authoring tool can supply text alternatives to any non-text content, ensuring that learners with visual impairments can still get the full benefit of your content’s assets.
Alt text might feel like an obvious accommodation, but WCAG’s guidelines are pretty far-reaching—and a VPAT® is great for ensuring that some of the more obscure aspects of product accessibility don’t get overlooked.
For example, a VPAT® audit will check to see whether or not an authoring tool suffers from a keyboard trap. When you use a keyboard to focus on a specific page element, that same keyboard interface needs to allow users to move on—and if it can’t, you’ve got a keyboard trap on your hands.
This is a hugely important thing to get right, since a keyboard trap can prevent users from taking full advantage of a page—and it’s exactly the kind of fine detail that a good VPAT® audit will quickly spot.
Find out more about accessible eLearning practices:Achieving accessibility: 5 tips for truly accessible training
The difference between A and AA success criteria
WCAG’s testable criteria are split across several categories, and a VPAT® will reflect that across multiple tables. These categories each denote different levels of conformance, ranging from A (the lowest and most essential rung of the conformance ladder) all the way to AAA.
Take Gomo’s own report as a case in point. Gomo supports what WCAG calls “meaningful sequence”: its assets can be navigated in a tabbing order that makes sense. This is a fundamental need for accessibility purposes, so it’s classed as a level A criterion.
Meanwhile, the ability to resize text without assistive technology up to 200% (another criterion Gomo supports) is more of a specialized capability, which is why it’s classed as level AA.
Why reporting on accessibility standards matters in an eLearning context
When you’re looking to supply your employees with learning material, it’s essential that every learner can have a memorable and engaging experience. This matters—not only because fairness and parity are always good to strive toward, but also for highly practical reasons. When you’ve got mandatory training to deliver and compliance requirements to satisfy, it’s not tenable to offer resources that aren’t accessible to your workforce.
That’s why transparency is a key quality to look out for in your authoring tool. By taking a glance at your authoring tool’s accessibility reporting, you’ll gain an informed perspective on how to get the most out of it—for every learner!
Authoring tool features that help to achieve WCAG conformance
You can’t determine an authoring tool’s WCAG conformance by its features alone (after all, that’s what a VPAT® is for!).
That said, there are one or two features that—in the right hands—can get an authoring tool off to a running start in accessibility terms. Let’s take a look at a couple of key examples.
Achieving accessibility via a custom theme library
Gomo’s recent VPAT® audit revealed that a key WCAG success criterion was met thanks to its library of visual themes. These pre-made themes allow users to brand every course with colors and logos, ensuring that learning content has a consistent look and feel—and that the same consistency applies to accessibility, too.
So, what do Gomo’s themes bring to the accessibility table? It’s all about the colors:
According to WCAG recommendations, there’s a minimum contrast ratio that text, images of text, and non-text elements need to adhere to. With the right mix of brightness and darkness, you’ll ensure that learners with color deficiency or low vision can perceive your content.
In Gomo’s case, that can be easily achieved with the help of its theme library. As the VPAT® report points out, Gomo’s themes allow authors to style their courses with accessible-friendly contrasts. Better still, since Gomo’s themes can be applied across every piece of content, any accessibility-first customization will be felt equally across every course.
More about themes:Better branding: 8 pointers for your eLearning courses
Device-agnostic access with fully responsive content
WCAG’s recommendations are pretty clear when it comes to orientation. For people with dexterity impairments, a mounted device can be an essential way to experience the digital world—which means content needs to conform to the orientation that suits those devices.
The guidelines also point out that users with low vision can also benefit from orientation-friendly capabilities. By viewing content in landscape mode, for example, they might be able to increase font sizes accordingly.
Our VPAT® audit found that Gomo’s fully responsive design is able to achieve exactly these outcomes—and more. Here’s how:
Responsiveness is Gomo’s bread and butter: it ensures Gomo courses are automatically built to handle any situation a learner might find themselves in, whether they’re:
- An office worker using a desktop
- A traveling salesperson using a smartphone
- A field operative relying on a tablet
As such, Gomo is in the perfect position to confirm that the courses you create with it can function in both portrait and landscape modes, no matter what device is involved.
Gomo’s responsive template also ensures that it can achieve text spacing recommendations. These recommendations are extremely precise: they specify, for example, that line spacing needs to reach at least 1.5 times the font size without any loss of content or functionality.
This success criterion matters: increasing spacing (whether it’s between lines, words, letters, or paragraphs) can help users read text. Needless to say, this is a crucial part of learning—and the best authoring tools will be able to confidently say it has these accommodations front of mind.
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.