A learning management system (LMS) is no different to a website. It should be as accessible to as many people as possible.
Why? Making digital materials more accessible is good for everyone. It means that more people can use and understand your online courses. It is also a legal responsibility.
Public sector organisations and some charity websites (where mainly funded by government funds) must meet the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018. The rules mean that websites have to meet certain web accessibility standards. Websites and learning management systems should be “perceivable, operable, understandable and robust”. Basically, are they easy to use, flexible, and accessible to learners using different technologies?
There is also the legal duty to make adjustments for disabled people from the Equality Act (2010). Public sector organisations, employers, higher education providers and service providers must adjust digital learning materials and also their processes when requested. For example, providing learning materials as printed copies, in large font or Braille. And, providing alternative ways to get involved in learning activities to remove barriers, such as accepting assessments in text format or voice notes.
When we were looking for the right online learning platform for JRS Knowhow, we wanted to find a solution that met current web accessibility standards. We also wanted to find a platform that helps us to create and check the accessibility of our materials over time. It is possible to buy a platform that meets accessibility standards and then create inaccessible learning content.
We collected some of our learnings and chatted with inclusion experts about some of their digital accessibility tips.
In the spirit of sharing our learning, here are some questions to help you on your journey finding a more accessible LMS:
Product sales and demos
When you find a service provider you want to contact, is there more than one way to contact them?
- For example, not just an email address but also phone number, BSL interpretation links, mail and a web-based contact form
Does the provider ask you about any adjustments to remove barriers to participation for the initial meeting or conversation?
- For example, if you prefer to meet in person, require a stenographer to live caption the meeting or need to take frequent breaks
Can you directly test the platform yourself, or will the provider insist on giving you a video tour where you can’t interact with it?
- For example, if there is a demo site that you can play with instead of getting motion sick watching a screen share…
Accessibility ambitions, standards, and statements
Does the platform comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines?
- It should ideally be at least 2.1 AA compliant, and ultimately 2.1 AAA. Or the platform might have plans to become compliant with WCAG standards in future
Does the provider publish an accessibility statement?
- It should summarise existing accessibility problems and plans to overcome them
- You might notice that some people bury accessibility statements at the bottom of websites and some people put them prominently at the top
If it is a US based provider, does the platform publish a Voluntary Product Accessibility template?
Does the provider publish a platform roadmap listing any future accessibility updates?
- Product testing and learner feedback should always highlight things that can be improved and it is nice to see accessibility bugs or barriers immediately addressed in roadmaps instead of actioned far into the future coloumn
Testing the platform’s accessibility
Does a WebAim Wave test of the platform flag any immediate accessibility errors?
- Such as poor text contrast or missing alternative text for multimedia like images
- You should be aiming for WCAG 2.1 AA
Does a quick check of navigation using assistive technology flag any problems for the learner journey?
- For example text to speech and speech to text functionality, with keyboard and mouse only navigation, or autoplaying elements like videos, GIFs or announcements
- Videos without transcripts or captions is another red flag
Does the platform practice inclusive design from the beginning/ coding or rely on an accessibility overlay to adjust the website contents to fix any faults?
- For example, elements like the font size are large enough for everyone to read from the start, with overlays providing learner flexibility instead of fixing design flaws
Have both the learner and administrator journey been accessibility tested?
- Some tools have focused accessibility improvements for learners and ignored the content creation journey for course leads, which can be overwhelming or hard to navigate
- And how accessible are these tools themselves? Do they work with screen readers?
Does the service provider do accessibility testing after the platform has been branded and tweaked for you? Or is that assumed to be your responsibility?
- It is ideal if providers will continue to accessibility test the version of the platform you will roll out, instead of assuming that out of the box it is accessible enough
Does the platform and service provider have a mechanism for receiving accessibility feedback?
- Without a feedback loop or complaints mechanism, flaws and barriers in the platform won’t be picked up past product testing
Does the platform have an online community, or set of resources about how to make content as accessible as possible?
- Lots of providers have more than a Github repository of code, they have online forums to discuss open source solutions
Do you have colleagues, collaborators, and learners to test the platform with you as you build it?
For more information about digital accessibility, you can find more information in these materials:
- Inclusion Scotland’s guide to accessible online meetings and guide to accessible document formatting.
- AbilityNet also have a blog about accessible eLearning dos and don’ts with Susi Miller.
Are you interested in helping us learner test our new online hub? Get in touch to find out more about how to be involved.