Creating accessible content for eLearners who require assistive technology is necessary for compliance with ADA regulations. This does not mean that interactivity must be excluded in eLearning programs. With the right content authoring tool, it is possible to create completely accessible content and still offer interactive elements.
The Need for Interactivity
Interactivity today is essential. It offers more engagement and promotes knowledge absorption and retention. However, it can be problematic when designing a course that must work for learners with and without assistive needs. One might assume that interactivity must be tossed in favor of accessibility, but that is not the case. Both user types can be accommodated fairly easily.
Adapting for Screen Readers and Other Assistive Technology
For users who require a screen reader, it might seem that hidden objects are not an option since the screen reader will not actually read them. That is not the case, though. There are alternative ways to achieve this goal, including using rollover text and tool tips. Another option is to use pop-up messages.
There are a few things to remember. The text must be available on the page, even though a sighted reader might not see it. This ensures that the screen reader is able to access it.
For instance, by ensuring that a hidden copy of text is on the page as alternative content, you can use conventional mouse enter/exit functionality for rollover text and tool tips. Just make a copy of the text you need to hide and then tweak it so that a sighted reader will not see it. Simple techniques can be used here, such as changing the color of the font to match the page background, or shrinking the font size. It can also be added behind an image layer. This ensures that it will not be visible to those not using a text reader while simultaneously making it accessible for those who are.
Pop-up menus can be transformed for accessibility and interactivity. For instance, layer the menu under an image and then hide that image on the page. Like text, the image can simply match the background of the page. The text in the pop-up menu will be loaded, and assistive technology will provide access to it through alternative options, such as the learner pressing a button.
Branching capabilities offer another alternative. For example, if sighted users are presented with a drag and drop question, branching can be used to redirect learners with accessibility needs to a different question, perhaps a multiple choice question that captures the meaning of the drag and drop question, but without the need for physical action on the screen.
It is important to remember that learners will need to indicate at the beginning of the course whether they are using a screen reader or other assistive device. This can be done by simply pressing a button on the keyboard and including text that the assistive tool will read out to the learner.
With the right content authoring tool and an understanding of the options available, eLearning can include interactivity and meet the needs of all learners.