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Why Digital Accessibility Is Essential for Corporate Learning

Jun 16, 2023

According to the 2022 Training Industry Report, only 24% of that year’s workplace instruction took place in person. The rest was divided between online platforms, virtual classrooms, mobile apps, and a few rare instances of new technology: virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence. 

In other words, most corporate learning takes place online. Unfortunately, online content isn’t always accessible for everyone. Nearly 7 million U.S. workers had one or more disabilities in 2022, continuing a steady rise in employment among these populations. 

Some disabilities can affect the way that people perceive and process corporate training materials, particularly when employers ignore accessibility needs when developing that content. For example:   

  • Workers with visual impairments may not be able to read lesson text or see your infographics. 
  • Deaf colleagues might miss recorded lectures that don’t contain accurate captions. 
  • Employees with developmental disabilities may struggle with a learning management system’s user interface.
  • People with color vision deficiencies (also called color blindness) may misunderstand the meanings of certain graphs, charts, and other visual materials.  

If you don’t build accessible systems into your online courses from the start, you risk leaving a significant portion of your staff behind. Here’s why that’s a serious problem — and how to address it.

The Risk of Poor Accessibility in Corporate Learning Content

Employees can’t learn what they can’t access. To create an effective training process, you need to make accessibility a core part of course design. 

The benefits won’t be limited to learners with disabilities. As we’ve discussed, accessible digital design is user-friendly design. Lecture transcripts make audio content available for people with hearing loss, but they also support people who simply learn better by reading than by listening. 

And while accessible design can improve learning outcomes, it’s also crucial for avoiding discrimination in compliance with civil rights laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Related: Essential Guide to ADA Compliance for Websites [eBook]

ADA Compliance in Online Workplace Training

Title I of the ADA bans discrimination against people with disabilities at most workplaces with 15 or more employees. That includes private companies, employment agencies, and labor groups. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 establishes similar requirements for federal agencies and the contractors they hire. 

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces Title I of the ADA, sometimes with the assistance of local civil rights agencies — and the EEOC explicitly lists training as one of the “employment practices” covered by the ADA. 

More specifically, employers must provide “reasonable accommodations” that make workplace tasks accessible. Examples of reasonable accommodations for corporate learning include: 

  • Providing assistive technology. For online courses, that could include screen readers, automatic transcription software, head pointers, and more.
  • Assigning human assistants, readers, or interpreters. 
  • Redesigning learning materials to improve accessibility.

To meet ADA standards, you’ll need to test your content against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This is a best practice for all your digital content, including internal training materials delivered online. If you meet WCAG Success Criteria in all your online course content, you’re much less likely to leave an employee behind. 

Related: How to Check WCAG Compliance: A Quick Guide

Applying WCAG Success Criteria to Corporate Learning Content

The ADA doesn’t list specific rules for digital accessibility, but the U.S. Justice Department has recommended WCAG as a guide for achieving compliance.  

Since the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) began publishing WCAG in 1999, the standards have become the leading authority on digital accessibility. While these guidelines are designed specifically for the internet, they’re helpful for all forms of interactive digital content, including online courses. 

Version 2.1 of WCAG is divided into dozens of success criteria. Each criterion defines an accessible design feature. Conformance is divided into three levels, from the A to AAA. Experts consider Level AA conformance to be a fair measure of general accessibility, and the Justice Department has required such compliance in settlement deals for ADA-related actions

Here are a few examples of Success Criteria that commonly apply to online corporate learning content: 

  • WCAG Success Criterion (SC) 1.2.2, “Captions (Prerecorded). Provide text versions of spoken language in all audio content, including lectures, videos, and podcasts.
  • WCAG SC 1.2.4, “Captions for Live Audio.”. Going a step further, this standard requires live captioning for audio-visual presentations. This likely applies to online training webinars and distance learning through video conferencing.  
  • WCAG SC 1.4.3, “Minimum Color Contrast.” This rule requires a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 between the text and the background. If you use text in your learning materials, black on white is a safe bet; that’s a contrast ratio of 21:1. 
  • WCAG SC 2.1.1, “Keyboard Functionality.” Users must be able to navigate your online course with a keyboard alone. 
  • WCAG SC 3.3.2, “Labels or Instructions.” Online assessments often require users to enter answers into digital fields. According to this WCAG rule, your online learning platform should clearly identify those fields with labels or instructions.

This list is not comprehensive, of course. By following WCAG — and testing your content for conformance — you can avoid barriers that impact your employees. The result: a more effective training process that addresses the needs and expectations of all employees. 

If you’re ready to build a comprehensive strategy for digital compliance, send us a message to connect with an expert. 

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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