Do AODA compliant eLearning modules need to be boring?
And by boring I mean fewer interactions and probably simpler than a non-compliant module. Let’s remember that here at Pathways we always strive to give our clients eLearning modules that are both interactive and animated to the best of our abilities. However, there’s always a need to make the eLearning modules accessible, specially when it comes to projects for government entities.
Let’s also remember that here in Ontario, the accessibility guidelines are governed by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, or AODA, which not only talks about digital products but several other things that need to be accessible.
In the case of digital products (under the Information and Communication section of the Act), it is defined that for both Intranet and Internet products (websites in general, including web-based applications, like eLearning modules) the accessibility is achieved by following the guidelines described in WCAG 2.0 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines).
There are different schedules depending on the type of entities, for when their websites must be AODA-compliant, for example:
If you are a government entity, by January 1, 2020 the websites must be compliant
If you are a public sector organization, the same must happen by January 1, 2021
But to what level of accessibility should your websites conform by the established date?
Well, since we are following the WCAG 2.0, the websites must conform to Level AA by the final date.
Wait, this might be confusing, what do these levels mean? To understand this, we first need to know about the success criteria or Principles of WCAG 2.0:
Perceivable: How we present the content of our website by way of text, images, audio, etc.
Operable: How we allow the users to interact with objects in our website
Understandable: How comprehensible our website is and how do we guide the user
Robust: How compatible is our website with different browsers.
Now, each one of these principles has a number of guidelines, that depending on the complexity fall into levels, that go from Level A to Level AAA.
Just to give you an example (to see the full list of guidelines, you can visit https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/ ), for the Perceivable principle, we have guidelines for providing alternatives for time-based media, such as audio or video. One of the guidelines, as you might have guessed, is the use of Captions for pre-recorded media, which falls into the Level A category. For Level AA we have the same use of Captions, but in this case for Live media, much like you will see if you enable the Closed Captions on your TV while watching the Super Bowl. And finally, Level AAA is the use of Sign Language. As we can see, the level of complexity in the execution of these guidelines increase as the levels increase.
But what does this mean for our eLearning modules?
For starters, it means that the eLearning modules we produce, must be completely navigable via the tab key, meaning that the learners should be able to reach any element on screen (relevant elements) by pressing the tab key and in a comprehensive order, and this is directly tied with providing text alternatives to non-text elements, like images, to which we can add alt text to allow screen readers to read a description of the image to visually impaired learners. Closed captions are of course a must and should be included for both audio and video.
However, there’s always concern when it comes to interactions like for example a drag and drop activity, because then the option for using the tab key becomes useless, as this kind of activity relies purely in the use of the mouse. But if there is something I have learned while reading and trying to understand the guidelines, is that it’s all about giving alternatives to the learners, like giving them the alternative of a transcript if there is audio or video, closed caption, etc., so why not also give a different alternative to drag and drop activities?
WCAG 2.0 clearly states that providing keyboard accessible content does not forbid and should not discourage providing mouse input or other input methods in addition to keyboard operation.
So, I’m thinking we could have a drag and drop interaction AND provide an alternative, such as a multiple choice question that is 100% and that also reinforces the same learning points as the drag and drop.
Animations, for example, can also be treated as videos, and maybe adding descriptions to these animations may give our eLearning module the required level of accessibility for it to be compliant.