The internet has become one of the most important educational environments. Over the last decade or so, we’ve seen the rise of the eLearning marketplace and the development of ever more advanced learning technology. Most recently, COVID-19 created a necessity for far more schools to utilize digital spaces than ever before.For businesses operating online education sites, this can present some opportunities and challenges. One of the most important is making your site more accessible to all students. A recent UNICEF report found unequal access to remote learning resources during COVID-19 slowed many students’ learning progress. You have a chance to positively impact the inclusivity and efficacy of digital learning.
It is both your ethical duty and a business imperative to look a little closer at your accessibility. Importantly, you need to establish how to boost it. We’ll run through some of the key elements that can help you along the way.
Support various Tools
There is a growing number of assistive technology products in classroom environments. Over the last couple of decades, we’ve seen the emergence of variable speed recorders that help to slow down teachers’ speech for those students with auditory challenges. There are also more affordable Braille printers for worksheets. Automated transcription software has become commonplace, too. As distant learning is becoming more prevalent, there is a need for you to make certain your online education site is compatible with tools students may have in the home.
This begins with even the most basic elements of your user interface (UI). Some students will be navigating your site using tools other than a mouse or even a monitor. This could be through voice command-driven software or mobility assistance devices. A good rule of thumb is to design your UI to be navigated with nothing but the arrow, tab, and enter keys. This is because many assistive tools already have specific commands linked to these keys.
However, it’s also important to think beyond compatibility with traditional assistive tools. Advanced technology has become more affordable over time. The result is a wider range of education technology (ed-tech) items are practical for remote students living with challenges. Tools to offer immersive educational experiences — virtual reality (VR) headsets and augmented reality (AR) glasses among them — can make for a more inclusive virtual classroom experience. This can be helpful for neurodivergent students who find some physical spaces overwhelming. Create compatible video options. Perhaps consider offering activities to capitalize on these tools. This can be a boost for accessibility.
Work with experts
You are likely to have significant expertise in online learning. However, in any field of education, it’s important to acknowledge there will be areas in which you lack practical experience. You will have a much more thorough and positive impact on students and attract site traffic if you collaborate with those who know more than you.
A good place to start here is with relevant consultants or organizations. These experts can give you insights into educational accessibility challenges. Yes, many content management systems (CMS) have accessibility plugins to scan code. But this only really covers the basics. Engage professionals in physical disability, mental health, and neurodivergence to go through every element of your website. Seek advice on what aspects are hurdles for different types of students and how to overcome these.
Go further than this, too. Get their input on what actively makes a better overall user experience (UX) design. For instance, review the potential to offer a wider variety of communications tools. This can help address social needs for those who may find themselves isolated due to anxiety. The better experience you can provide, the closer your site gets to true inclusivity.
Alongside experts in the challenges students face, it’s important to work with development professionals. Make sure they have accessibility skillsets. Remember, web development is a growing field filled with professionals who specialize in different areas of design and programming. You may need to only collaborate with a front-end developer to meet the design and navigational needs of your student visitors. However, you might have a range of tools — VR components or communications elements requiring specific coding, for instance. In this case, a full-stack developer may be more appropriate. They’ll be able to work with the underlying infrastructure of your platform as well as the visual components. This can help ensure your visitors get the best outcomes.
One of the most important aspects of making your educational site accessible is a commitment to constant improvement. Education benefits from community discussion and insights. In the same way, your website’s accessibility needs to be informed and guided by a wider range of collaborators. The best way to approach this is to keep the discussion about inclusivity ongoing. Don’t allow it to be limited to elements you “take care of” during the initial design process.
Your most vital source of information is the students and teachers interacting with your site. After all, you can’t just dictate what makes your website accessible to users who may be living with challenges every day. They’ll have more practical and accurate ideas about what is problematic in your sight and even where you can be more innovative. Therefore, make efforts to encourage an open dialogue. Talk about your commitment to inclusivity and make it easy for them to get in contact with you to provide suggestions. Reach out occasionally on your social media channels and emails to invite feedback. Not only can it improve your site, but it also helps create a more connected user base. This tends to result in greater loyalty.
In a world that is embracing eLearning more, your site can be a meaningful tool for students and teachers. You can have a better impact by also making efforts to create an accessible environment. Ensure your services are compatible with assistive technologies. Consult with professionals to help you achieve a truly inclusive learning space. These steps, alongside communicating with students as part of an ongoing collaboration can make your site an important influence in the educational landscape.