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How to Design an Accessible Course
How to Design an Accessible Course

Improve the accessibility of your courses with these tips and tricks.

Anthony Karcz avatar
Written by Anthony Karcz
Updated over a week ago

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Accessibility in e-learning is a key element of course design. But what is accessibility, really? It’s more than a collection of standards and requirements. Accessibility is ensuring your learners can focus on your content and not be distracted by roadblocks. With Rise, we’ve removed a lot of those roadblocks for your learners with features you can deploy like video closed captions (in multiple languages), accessible text support via browser extensions, and more.

Creating accessible content isn’t just something you have to do to meet standards. When you enhance the accessibility of your content, everyone benefits. The need for extra accommodations affects more than just those with permanent physical or neurological impairment. The need can be a temporary one imposed by illness or environment. Craft your content to meet your learners where they’re most comfortable.

So where to start? In this article, you’ll find specific ways you can help learners interact as fully as possible with your Rise courses.

Design Your Course with Accessibility in Mind

Let learners with impairments know they’re an integral part of your audience right from the start. Provide accessibility instructions at the beginning of your course so they’re immediately comfortable with its layout and design. Mention things like the fact that they can navigate directly to lesson content, skipping the sidebar navigation, when tabbing through a course with a screen reader. You can even link to this article on keyboard-accessible shortcuts so that learners can familiarize themselves with alternate navigation in Rise.

Keep in mind that image and quote carousels, process interactions, drag-and-drop interactions, and chart blocks aren’t currently keyboard accessible. If you use these blocks in your lessons, you’ll want to provide alternatives as well (like a text block that summarizes the information provided in the interactive block).

Keyboard navigation is just a piece of the accessibility puzzle, however. Here are some other helpful tips to keep in mind as you design your course.

  • Heading blocks and content labels do more than just organize your course. Breaking long sections of content into discreet, clearly labeled parts helps many types of neurodivergent learners. They also make it easier to navigate for learners using screen readers.

  • Consistency is key. When you use an object or interaction more than once, be sure to identify it the same way each time. For example, if you use button blocks to jump to other locations, label them consistently throughout your course.

  • Use the feedback field for quiz questions and knowledge checks. Give learners feedback or instructions so they know what’s expected when they respond incorrectly.

  • A flashing .GIF or intense video might provide some visual pizzazz, but it could also trigger seizures in sensitive learners. Don’t use videos or animations that flash or blink more than three times per second. If you’re not sure, use this tool to analyze your video.

  • Give learners text-based alternatives for non-text content. Use alt text to describe images. Use text blocks or labeled graphic blocks to provide expanded descriptions for complex images, such as charts and maps. For audio and video blocks, use the caption field to describe the purpose of the media.

Make Visual Content Accessible

Why “visual” content and not “video” content? Because there’s a lot more to your course than just videos! While making sure a visual medium like online coursework is accessible can seem daunting, it’s actually not too hard once you get some basics in place.

Visual impairments cover a wide spectrum, including low vision, color blindness, and total blindness. It could also include learners who find it difficult to read on-screen text due to learning disabilities or because the course language is a second language for them. Since it’s such a broadly encompassing category, let’s break it down by specific accommodations.

Screen Readers

Learners often use screen readers to experience e-learning courses, so it’s important to note that Rise supports JAWS, NVDA, VoiceOver, and TalkBack screen readers with our supported browsers.

  • Be sure to use text blocks to convey important information rather than importing images of text, which can’t be read by assistive tools.

  • Set the course language in your text labels and screen readers will use that language to properly pronounce the interface elements and course content.

  • Tables don’t just organize your content visually, they communicate to screen readers how content is organized, which can then provide context to the learner. Click here for more on adding tables in Rise.

Contrast Ratio

Rise interface elements already meet minimum contrast requirements, but you’ll want to make sure your design choices follow guidelines as well. If you’re ever uncertain, here’s a helpful contrast checker to determine your contrast ratio.

  • When choosing text color, you’ll want to use a contrast ratio of 4.5:1 or higher. This ensures that learners with low vision can read it.

  • Provide alternatives when color is used to convey important information or instructions. Learners with color blindness might not see the differences in your color choices. Use a 4:5:1 contrast ratio between normal-sized clickable text and static text (3:1 for large text) and consider using patterns, textures, or text to make different areas of an image stand out (like the bars of a chart).

  • Be sure your Rise accent color and block background color have a 3:1 contrast ratio or higher when adjacent to non-text content, such as buttons, charts, and other graphical elements.

Audio and Text Descriptions

The important thing to remember when adding a visual element to your course, be it an image, video, or pie chart, is that learners who can’t see it need a way to get the information from it.

  • If you do include videos in your course, you’ll want to include text-based descriptions in a subsequent text block. Alternately, you can create audio descriptions in a separate app, then import them into Rise.

  • For images, include meaningful alternative text (alt text) that clearly describes what’s being shown. Luckily, it’s easy to add in Rise. Provide a detailed text description of or consider an alternate, keyboard-accessible interaction for drag-and-drop interactive blocks while we work to optimize keyboard navigation. Please note that alt text can't be added to scenario blocks.

Make Audio Content Accessible

Closed captions are key for making audio content accessible to learners who can’t hear your content (for whatever reason, be it physiological or environmental). You can learn all about adding closed captioning to videos in Rise here. Note that Rise doesn’t currently support captions for audio blocks.

You should also give learners text-based alternatives for audio-only content. Use a text block or an accordion interaction with a single tab to display a transcript. If the transcript is short, you can even use the caption field for the audio block.

Make Interactive Content Accessible

Rise provides instructions for interactions with the exception of sorting activities and matching drag-and-drop questions. For those types of blocks, you’ll want to use a text block to provide instructions.

Sorting, flashcard, process, and drag-and-drop interactions are difficult to navigate with a keyboard. Charts and scenario blocks aren't accessible via keyboard either at this time. If you use any of these blocks in your course, provide text-based alternatives or a description of the information learners need to know from the interaction.

Going Further

For additional information on accessibility in Rise, make sure you check out the Accessibility collection.

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