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Design for All


The Importance of Accessibility

One of the most frequent questions I receive when designing custom learning solutions for clients is a single sentence, usually expressed as a random comment or thrown in an email.

“Can we make sure this is accessible?”

Answering this question isn’t easy. Many of our clients have their own internal rules and regulations on what it means to be “accessible” within their organization, and of course, there are laws that need to be followed. However, a good general way to define accessibility in design is the idea that whether it’s an e-learning course, a restaurant menu, or anything in between, it’s something that can be used by everyone — regardless of how they encounter it.

The degree to which a client implements accessibility can vary widely. For some, it’s a strict set of company-wide standards that closely follow ADA guidelines; others want to be rigorously 508 compliant. Many just want to ensure the text is legible. Your clients may have the best intentions but may not realize how these decisions can severely affect their budget or timeline.

The Research

Primarily, I think it’s important to understand why accessibility in training is important. A few interesting facts:

  • The Center for Disease Control says approximately 20 percent of Americans have at least one disability.
  • According to Deloitte, “Companies with inclusive talent practices in hiring, promotion, development, leadership, and team management generate up to 30 percent higher revenue per employee and greater profitability than their competitors.”
  • From a legal standpoint, it’s estimated that 98 percent of U.S.-based webpages are not accessible.

Ways to Ensure Accessibility

So, what do you do as a designer (or anyone involved in custom training)? While there are many steps you can take to ensure your designs are as accessible as possible, I’m going to call out three items that closely align to the principles of good design. These should be implemented no matter the scope of the initiative.

Hierarchy: Training is all about the content even when there is, in my humble opinion, too much of it. To keep information organized, ensure the structure is logical by following the narrative of the training and keeping the learner on the right “path.” One way to do this is to keep key pieces of information in the forefront and know when to keep some content more subdued. This will help make everything neat and free of distraction. Using visual cues in the hierarchy can also help learners who are training in a second language.

Repetition: It’s essential to be consistent throughout your design. For examples, making buttons the same size and color and keeping navigation in the same location will not only keep things frustration-free but will also help those who are visually impaired and using a screen reader.

Contrast: Text legibility, which I mentioned earlier, has obvious advantages for those who are visually impaired. In a more design-oriented sense, contrast ties closely into the hierarchy item mentioned above. You can use contrasting design elements to establish key points and guide the learner’s “path.” It’s also crucial in adding visual interest and keeping the user focused and engaged.

These are just a few things to remember when designing for accessibility though this is hardly an exhaustive list. I personally found this research fascinating and very enlightening, and I implore anyone interested in the topic to check the web for other resources, including the ADA website, which contains an abundance of material and clear definitions.

Keep in mind that when you design robust, intuitive training, it’s much more inclusive for all learners. It will have a higher likelihood of impact and increase the potential of your entire team and organization.

A woman and some of her coworkers smiling while working in a computer lab.

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