Why Is Accessibility Important in eLearning?

Matthew Becker

What is accessibility in eLearning?

Accessibility, or eLearning accessibility, is the process of meeting the needs of all learners, and it often becomes a priority in a bid to meet societal and cultural expectations that organizations function inclusively.

Accessibility ensures that everyone at an organization, regardless of their learning abilities and needs, is considered in the development and implementation of a competency-based learning program. Accessibility promotes inclusivity of all learners, encouraging a diversity of abilities and removing barriers through the creation of specific learning accommodations.

Successful organizations focus on accessibility because it can ensure that the same standards of learning are met by all individuals.

What is the significance of accessible learning?


Accessible learning is deeply important as a social issue. By considering accessibility, learning initiatives represent ethical and responsible inclusivity that has positive effects on society. Everyone should have their specific cognitive, visual, physical (mobility), or auditory needs considered in the development and implementation of a competency-based learning program.

Do your organization's learning programs apply accessibility principles? Here are a few questions you can ask to find out:

  • Does my organization have a mandate about or relating to accessibility? If so, how can that be related back to and practiced in our learning programs?
  • Are there any accessibility practices that my organization currently supports that can be transferred into the realm of learning, training, and education?
  • What are some learning differences that my organization can accommodate in our learning practices?

Even if no one in your organization requires specific accommodation right now, this may change somewhere down the line. For example, a new employee with a visual impairment may require use of a screen reader or function for the program text to be easily magnified. Without this function planned into the learning program, this person will not have the same quality learning experience as others. Their personal ability to meet competency and knowledge requirements could be jeopardized.

Why does accessibility matter?


Accessibility matters for three key reasons:

  1. All learners deserve equal access to the learning opportunities provided: Large segments of the population live with varying degrees of disability. This means that the inclusivity principle holds especially significant weight in the context of learning.
  2. Learning that is highly accessible holds the potential to benefit everyone: While some learners may not have officially diagnosed disabilities or learning impairments, accessibly designed learning programs often benefit other learners who have diverse needs, including those with temporary disabilities, the elderly and those with temporary technological limitations. For example:
  1. A learning program that has a magnifying tool to assist learners with visual impairments can also assist older learners who have poor eyesight.
  2. A learning program incorporates audio transcripts or spoken closed captions of audio portions of the course content. Learners with vision loss will also benefit from the supporting audio format or screen readers.

Overall, the different functions developed into the learning program offer more diversity in the presentation of course material.

  1. In some specific circumstances, accessibility of learning programs is a legal or organizational- level requirement. Some organizations may develop their own, unique accessibility standards that must be adhered to when developing new learning programs to reduce or completely negate legal risk.

What are the benefits of accessibility?

In addition to supporting all learners, accessible competency-based learning can also have positive business effects. In other words, accessible learning is very good for business.

The WC3 Web Accessibility Initiative (2017) claims that accessibility practices offered for various products and services can:

  • Encourage innovation in both learning and other organizational aspects: Accessible design thinking can provide unique and cutting-edge methods for users to engage with learning material, which can then be applied into other aspects of organizational functioning.
  • Strengthen an organization's brand and make it more appealing: Efforts to remain inclusive send the message that an organization is ethical, forward-thinking, and trustworthy.
  • Ensure that product reach is maximized: By actively including as many learners as possible, an organization may increase the size and scope of its possible userbase.

If one of the main goals of a learning program is to improve or develop the skills, knowledge, and attitude of every learner, then an effective competency-based learning program must be tailored to accommodate a wide range of abilities. It should be widely accessible to many different learners by offering a variety of adjustable options through its technology, courseware (including presentation of learning content), and the assessment of competency and skill levels.

What is the diversity of abilities?


The accessibility of a competency-based learning program should be geared towards a diversity of abilities (WC3 Web Accessibility Initiative, 2017).

Varying abilities, impairments, conditions, and disabilities might take the form of:

  • Health issues or conditions: Specific health conditions might affect an individual's dexterity or concentration, or their ability to spend a prolonged amount of time moving through a single module.
  • Impairments related to age: Some individuals may require assistance in learning how to navigate newer technology, or may require tools, options, or assistive technologies to make learning possible.
  • Multiple disabilities: Some individuals may have multiple, intersecting disabilities, meaning that they may require much more flexibility in the presentation and completion of learning content.
  • Changing disabilities or abilities: Other individuals may have disabilities or abilities that change throughout the course of a competency-based learning program. Their changing learning needs may mean that they require varying levels of support or flexibility, as well accommodations for those abilities that enable accessible learning.

To learn more about the types of disabilities and barriers that learners face, please see Tips for Designing Accessible eLearning.

This is the first article in a three-part series covering Chapter 23 of our Skilling Up textbook. To access other articles in this series, please navigate below.

Article 2 - How To Make Your Learning Materials Accessible

Article 3 - Enhance Your Training with BaseCorp's Accessible Learning Solutions

Ready to revolutionize your organization's learning experience? Download our latest eBook now to uncover the secrets behind successful LMS implementation and create engaging content that inspires your learners.

Download the Free Ebook

Matthew Becker

Matthew applies his many years of experience in teaching, EdTech, and learning resource development to create engaging and meaningful learning experiences. As an Instructional Designer at BaseCorp, he is keen on leveraging educational technologies to help learners reach "Aha!" moments in new and exciting ways.