Pearson How to make your online learning content accessible to everyone

How to make your online learning content accessible to everyone

In 2020 the World Health Organisation estimated that over 1 billion people worldwide live with a disability. This makes them the largest minority group, and the number of people is likely to rise as people live longer and as the number of chronic health conditions is increasing. During the academic year 19/20, in the UK 332,300 students stated they had a disability of some form, which equates to 17.3% of all home students. This is an increase of 106,000 (47%) since 2014/15 (Hubble and Bolton, 2021).

But what can we do for these students? The acceleration towards online learning has opened up a significant opportunity for learners with disabilities, and especially those who have found attending more traditional learning settings difficult.

Making online content accessible

While online learning is an exciting opportunity to make education more accessible, it can only be truly so if the content itself is also accessible. For many of us, watching a video or listening to a podcast, or even looking at a graph presents no difficulty, however any of these could be a challenge for students with disabilities. Therefore, we need to ensure the content is digitally accessible.

So how do we define digital accessibility? It is about making sure as many people as possible can access and use your course content, similarly to how university buildings are expected to have wheelchair access.  Students with visual, auditory, cognitive, physical and learning disabilities are all impacted when content is not digitally accessible. That’s why it is a legal requirement in the UK and other countries that course content must meet the standards set by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG, Central Digital and Data Office, 2018).

Additionally, there are many ways that digitally accessible content can benefit students without disabilities. For example, using captions on a video when watching in a noisy environment or being able to read on mobile devices in bright sunlight because of the colours chosen in the resources, demonstrate that digital accessibility stands to benefit everyone. To quote Steve Krug, author of Don’t make me think: A common sense approach to web usability:

“The one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made nearly often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives. How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our job a little better?”

While it can seem like a lot of different factors to have to consider when looking at making your content digitally accessible, there are some easy steps you can take to avoid creating barriers for some of your students:

  • Don’t just use colours to highlight differences on charts and graphs. It’s helpful to also use symbols or shapes.
  • Using alternative text on images, graphs and charts means people with visual impairments that use screen readers can follow the information the image is helping convey.
  • Including a transcript for video and audio resources.
  • Providing closed captions for pre-recorded video.
  • Using heading and subheadings can help those who use screen readers as it will make the structure of the content clearer and allow them to skim more easily.
  • Clear contrast between text colour and background colour.
  • Avoid including activities that can’t be completed using a keyboard alone, such as some drag and drop style activities.

While these tips are a great place to start, you may be looking for ways to make a new or existing online course more inclusive and accessible.

Pearson’s course design experts can help. Their specialist knowledge can assist you in creating an inclusive online course that is accessible to all students. Find out how Pearson’s course development services can support your accessibility goals and get in touch for a consultation.


Claire Poste, CPACC, Digital Producer at Pearson

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