Why Does Accessibility Matter In The Context Of Adult Learning?
When one thinks about accessible online training and learning, what comes to mind? For many instructional designers and trainers, “accessible” is synonymous with legal protocols such as Section 508 or WCAG 2.1. But true accessibility as it relates to learning involves far more than compliance box checking. It is more about removing barriers and creating an inclusive environment that assures effective learning for all.
Imagine sitting in a meeting where everyone is speaking in a foreign language. Or you’re on a video conferencing call and the sound goes out. That’s what it feels like to be a learner with a disability trying to participate in a non-accessible, virtual training course. The experience is understandably frustrating and discouraging for the learner. However, it is also a huge concern for organizations.
Everyone deserves the opportunity to learn. But those with disabilities are sometimes unintentionally excluded from the same experiences their colleagues have. The ramifications are far-reaching. On a purely practical level, they may fail to fully absorb the learning material intended for them. Emotionally, they can exit their virtual training session(s) feeling resentful. Legally, the company could be held liable for non-compliance. In a worst-case scenario, the inadequately trained learner could put their own safety—or the safety of others—at risk.
How Many People Are Affected?
According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), World Report on Disability: Summary, 2011, more than one billion people worldwide live with some form of disability; nearly 200 million experience considerable difficulties in functioning. But defining precisely what constitutes a disability is not an exact science. While those with long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory [such as hearing or vision] differences fall under the umbrella, many individuals experience short-term challenges that disable or impair their ability to learn.
Consider the case of an employee with a broken wrist who can only use one hand to type. Or how about a worker who is on a prescribed, short-term medication that makes her dizzy when staring at a computer screen? What about an individual who successfully undergoes cataract surgery but has limited visual acuity during the healing process? These workers are dealing with temporary situations that certainly impair their ability to fully participate in online training and learning initiatives.
Some learners may not even be aware of the fact that they are living with a so-called disability! For years they may have coped with challenges related to dyslexia or ADHD, without ever recognizing or acknowledging their “disability.” For example: Color blindness affects 5 to 10 percent of the US population, impacting considerably more males than females. In its mildest form, an individual might not even realize that he has the condition! He might perceive colors but cannot distinguish nuances in shades. If in a virtual training he is presented with a choice of blue boxes and asked specifically to click on the teal one. But what if he has trouble discerning exactly which box the facilitator is referencing?
Accessibility Considerations In Online Training: Why Should Enterprises Care About Accessibility?
It creates equal opportunity
Companies that prioritize accessibility enable individuals with disabilities to be more independent and provide them with the same opportunities as their colleagues.
It’s the law
Legal mandates for accessibility currently exist globally in some shape or form, and are only expected to further mature in scope and standardization.
It embraces and incorporates innovative technology
Accessible design ensures that training materials can be viewed by users who rely on screen readers, braille displays, or head pointers. They are enabled with closed captioning, automating transcripts, reader support, keyboard shortcuts, and color customizations.
It’s good for business
Organizations that prioritize accessibility improve their ability to reach new customers and penetrate new markets.
Many businesses today are focused on inclusion. Much has been written about the need to embrace diversity and inclusion, and the value that a corporate culture of inclusion offers. Experts agree that diversity fosters a more creative and innovative workplace. This also gives organizations a competitive edge in a globalized world. On a purely practical level, a diverse and inclusive workforce helps companies attract and retain talent. As such, they mitigate the high cost of turnover. An inclusive environment helps learners reach their potential and contribute their best to the organizational goals. Ethically, it is the right thing to do.
Download the eBook Accessibility Considerations In The World Of Online Training And Learning to discover how to create inclusive L&D experiences for every member of your team.