Accessibility Use Cases: How Different Learners Experience an eLearning Course

Collage of four people using computers: a young Caucasian man, a middle-aged Caucasian woman wearing glasses, a young nonbinary African-American person wearing glasses, and a young Hawaiian native woman wearing headphones.
This post shares some accessibility use cases, looking at how four different learners with disabilities might experience the same eLearning course design.

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

Introduction

Last week, I wrote about why instructional designers should or should not use narration in eLearning courses. I mentioned that I personally dislike narrated courses. However, it’s not actually the narration I dislike. It’s other design decisions that generally come with it. 

As a continuation of the same thought processes, this week I’m sharing some accessibility use cases (or learner personas). We’ll look at how four different learners with disabilities might experience the same narrated eLearning course design.

To come up with this hypothetical eLearning course design, I took a few tips from the comments on my LinkedIn poll, as well as some other common design features.

The Course Design

For my hypothetical course, let’s say I’ve applied Meyer’s Principles of Multimedia Learning to create a 15-minute eLearning module.

To activate learners’ dual channels for processing information, I provided narration throughout, with relevant imagery timed to the audio. The images include charts, infographics, and illustrations. In a few places, users can select buttons for additional information, which appears as text in popups.

For accessibility, I’ve created closed captions that match the spoken audio. To make sure the learners don’t skip through the course, the Next button is locked until the timeline finishes on each screen.

Use Cases: The Learner Experience

Now it’s time for our learner personas. Let’s consider how four different learners experience this course.

John

John is deaf. He primarily uses American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate, but he can also read lips.

John views the closed captions while watching the animations in the course. Overall, the design works well for him. 

However, he is a little annoyed at having to wait out the narration. He wishes he could speed it up a little.

Caucasian man using a computer

Alana

Alana is blind and uses screen reader assistive technology.

When she starts the course, she hears both the narration and the screen reader talking over each other. Without a way to stop the narration, she has trouble making sense of the course. She has to let the narration play out and then have the screen reader read it again.

At one point, she gets stuck on a drag-and-drop question she can’t complete with the keyboard. The Next button is locked, so she can’t finish the course.

Pacific Islander woman wearing headphones and using a computer with her hands on the keyboard

Susan

Susan has low vision and uses screen magnification.

She appreciates the narration. However, she has trouble seeing the animations because she can only enlarge a portion of the screen at a time. In addition, some charts are hard to read because the text gets pixelated when magnified.

She also misses the popup information because she assumes the narrator is reading the entire course, and she doesn’t notice the buttons.

Caucasian woman with short blond hair wearing glasses and holding a tablet close to her face

Jayden

Jayden has sensory processing issues from a traumatic brain injury they experienced several years ago.

Paying attention to the animations and the audio at the same time is really difficult because there’s too much going on at once. In addition, the narration is too fast for them to process.

They wish they could slow down the animations and audio, or refer to a transcript with relevant images instead. They need to be able to go through the material at their own pace.

African-American person wearing glasses and using a computer

Issues with the Course Design

As the use cases show, the course design described above has several issues:

  • Learners don’t have control over the pacing.
  • Narration interferes with assistive technology.
  • The course isn’t fully keyboard accessible.
  • Some features aren’t user-friendly for learners who require screen magnification.
  • The narrated animations aren’t ideal for users with sensory processing issues.
  • A deaf-blind user would have significant difficulty with this design.
  • There may be additional accessibility issues with “relevant imagery timed to the audio.” For example, if the course was created in Storyline, a screen reader would only read the items at the beginning of the timeline. 

How to Make eLearning Courses Work for Everyone

So, what could we do differently to make this course design work for everyone? I don’t have all the answers, but here are my thoughts:

  • User Control: For any audio and video components, allow learners to:
    • Control the speed
    • Turn off audio
    • Pause
    • Fast forward
    • Rewind
  • Keyboard Accessibility: If you use drag-and-drop interactions, provide a keyboard-accessible alternative, such as a multiple-choice question. (Or, if you’re tech-savvy, you might be able to make a drag-and-drop interaction accessible.)
  • Consistency of Content Delivery: If a narrated course requires the user to select items for additional information, provide instructions in the narration.
  • Transcripts: In addition to closed captions, provide a transcript. They can be beneficial for many learners, including those with cognitive disabilities. If the video includes essential graphics (such as charts), provide them in the transcript if possible.
  • Study Aids: Consider creating a print version of each lesson, which can be included as a downloadable resource. This is not a substitute for making the actual course accessible but can provide a useful reference tool. This is especially useful for those with cognitive disabilities. Just be sure the document is accessible.

Advice for Alternative Interactions

Be careful that any links you provide in the course to alternative interactions are themselves accessible. Consider the perspective of users who may need them.

The link to access the alternative should appear at or very near the top of the screen (or focus order). If you put the link at the bottom of the page, then a person using a screen reader would have to listen to the entire page before being able to access the link (which will take them to a different page with essentially the same content).

A Short Story About an Accessibility Solution Gone Wrong

Back before I knew much about accessibility, I worked with a company whose solution to alternative links included placing a “D” (for “description”) on the page, in a font color that matched the page background. Their reasoning was that it would be invisible to sighted users, but a person using a screen reader would “see” the link and be able to access the alternative interaction.

What problems can you think of with this plan?

  • What about sighted users who must use a keyboard instead of a mouse? They would get stuck on a drag-and-drop question—not able to access the interaction but also unable to see the invisible “D” link.
  • Even if the “D” were visible to sighted users, not everyone would understand what it is or why they should select it.
  • In addition, people who use eye-tracking assistive technology would have trouble selecting a tiny one-letter link. 

I don’t use drag-and-drop interactions as a general rule. However, if I did, I would place a text link near the top of the page that reads, “Select this link for a keyboard-accessible question.” This link would branch off to a multiple-choice or matching question.

A Word About Cognitive Disabilities

According to the CDC, almost 11 percent of people in the US have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions. In fact, people with cognitive impairments are the second-largest group of disabled individuals in the US (after those with mobility impairments). Yet many designers only think in terms of hearing and vision impairments when considering accessibility needs in their designs.

I encourage all my L&D colleagues to think beyond captions and alt text. We need to implement strategies like using plain language to better meet the needs of people with cognitive disabilities.

If you met me and we had a conversation, I’m willing to bet you’d never guess that I am one of those people with cognitive disabilities. Disabilities don’t always present the way you expect.

You might think you don’t have any disabled learners in your organization—and I’m pretty sure you’d be wrong about that.

You also never know when you might be the one to develop a disability.

Summary

Too many times, conversations about sound instructional design focus only on how nondisabled users learn. For example, Mayer’s principles assume that all users have sight and hearing. We need to think more broadly and consider the perspectives of ALL users.

What are your thoughts on designing courses that are both engaging and accessible to all? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

I am learning more about accessibility and instructional design every day. If you notice an accessibility issue on this site, please bring it to my attention.

Recommended Reading

Here are some books I have in my personal library that I highly recommend for learning more about the topics in this post:

I earn a small amount if you choose to purchase a book from one of the above links. This does not affect the price you pay and helps to support this blog.

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