How to advocate for eLearning accessibility when no one else thinks it's important. - eLaHub

An eLearning developer looking at a computer screen

Most eLearning professionals have some idea about digital accessibility, and are aware that it’s something they should be doing. Yet very few have been able to develop this awareness, and move on to creating fully accessible eLearning resources. So, what’s stopping them? In this series of blog posts, I’ll identify some of the main barriers that I’ve met. I’ll also give you some advice on how you can overcome them, and explain how can help.

“I think it’s the right thing to do, but it’s not a priority in my workplace”.

I’ve heard this comment, or a variation of it, countless times during my eLearning training and consultancy work. The lack of priority, and the resulting lack of support for the time and effort it takes to embrace digital accessibility, can be found at any level. There can be resistance from your team members, a lack of support from commissioners or managers, and very often, a lack of engagement at senior leadership level.

In a 24 Accessibility blog post on How ableism leads to inaccessibility, Olivier Nourry lists some examples of the comments that he has come across, during his work as an accessibility consultant.

  • “People with disabilities aren’t our target customers.”
  • “Our stats show that we don’t have users with disabilities.”
  • “We don’t receive complaints from users with disabilities.”
  • “We had other priorities.”
  • “We are planning to address accessibility in future versions.”
  • “We didn’t have the time or the budget to make it accessible.”
  • “What is the return on investment?”
  • “What do we risk if we don’t comply?”

I’ve worked with the private, public and further education sectors and I’ve come across nearly all of these comments, in all three sectors. How many of them were familiar to you?

So what can you do if your organisation doesn’t value diversity and inclusion, or doesn’t see accessibility as central to it? And what can you do, if you aren’t in a role that enables you to influence policy?

Become an effective advocate

The best advice that I’ve found is from Matt May, Adobe’s head of inclusive design. In a blog post on How to implement inclusive design in your organisation, he says;

“Effective advocates make progress in the same way, whether or not they’re the boss. They ask questions as they encounter issues. They help people find their way toward solutions, even when the answer isn’t something they’re fluent in. And they’re prepared to transmit a message:

This way isn’t working, and I am willing to help us move in another way that will.”

Fantastic advice, but in my experience, it can take a great deal of confidence, even courage, to be that advocate. This is especially true, when the answer is digital accessibility, and that may not be something that you’re fluent in. When I started speaking up for digital accessibility, I had the passion, but was definitely not fluent enough in the subject to be able to engage people. I’d often start conversations when I encountered issues, but quickly backed down at the first challenge or difficult question.

To become a more effective advocate, I realised I needed to become a more informed advocate. So I did some research. Well, what I actually did, was to search the internet randomly for anything related to digital accessibility. It may have been time consuming, but it was easy access to a huge amount of useful information. I say easy access, because I don’t consider myself to have any accessibility requirements which would stop me accessing anything I wanted to.

But what if I was blind, or had low vision and used a screen reader? What if I had a mobility impairment and used my keyboard, rather than mouse to navigate? What if I had a hearing impairment and needed captions for all the videos I watched? And what if I had a cognitive difference such as ADHD, and couldn’t concentrate because the content and images were flashing or moving around. How much of this information would I then have been able to access?

Digital accessibility is a right

This experience made me think about a quote from Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”

I don’t think it takes too much empathy, to understand how damaging a lack of access can be to those excluded from the Web’s universality. And although a lot of digital accessibility information focuses purely on websites, online learning is unquestionably included. This is true whether eLearning resources are hosted on an organisation’s externally facing website, Learning Management System, Virtual Learning Environment or intranet sites. And this means, that unless the eLearning we create is accessible, we are excluding a significant proportion of the population, from the training and learning that they are entitled to. In effect, we are denying them equal opportunities to thrive and succeed. In effect, we are denying them their human rights.

This is, and continues to be my primary motivation for advocating accessible eLearning, and is the reason I started eLaHub. I want anyone who believes it is right to create inclusive eLearning, to have a resource to help them. And one of the most important ways to help, is to provide support for anyone who wants to become a more effective advocate for eLearning accessibility in the workplace. I’ve included a lot of the information I found in my research on I’ve also put together a list of key facts. This is the list I have at the ready for when I’m challenged, or meet difficult questions in my advocacy work.

Advocating digital accessibility key facts

1. Laws

  • Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) states that we have a duty, not only to provide, but to “promote access, for persons with disabilities, to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the internet.” The UK ratified the convention in 2009.
    CRPD: Article 9
  • Since 2010, as a result of the Equality Act, all organisations in the UK have had an “anticipatory duty” to provide “reasonable adjustments” for people with disabilities. This means that organisations cannot wait until someone has an accessibility requirement and asks for reasonable adjustments, but must make all digital products accessible as standard.
    UK Equality Act 2010 guidance
  • If you work in the public sector, higher and further education institutions and some charities, or you supply resources to them, your digital content must be accessible to WCAG 2.1, A and AA standards. Timings vary for different platforms but general guidelines for digital content are:
    • eLearning on external sites must be accessible by Sept 2020 at the latest.
    • eLearning on mobile applications must be accessible by June 2021 at the latest.
    • eLearning on intranet and extranets (including LMSs and VLEs) must be accessible if published, or substantially revised, after Sept 2019.
      UK Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations and exceptions

2. Useful facts