Graduation hat on computer keyboard
Digital accessibility is one of those realms where the vast majority of businesses now appear to understand both the legal and moral imperatives for making their websites, mobile apps and other digital products accessible for people with disabilities.
Better still, over the past 10 years, organizations have begun to increasingly appreciate the business case for website accessibility as a clear return on investment with 15-20% of their customer base potentially living with some form of disability.
Away from the big picture and blue sky thinking what has, all too often, remained less clear for businesses is how to consistently produce and maintain compliant, rich and equitable digital experiences for all their customers.
This is because, at a more granular level, digital accessibility is certainly technically complex, replete with precepts and jargon that are unfamiliar to those who lack expertise and usually carries with it that element of fear associated with the consequences of getting it wrong.
Attempting to bridge some of these gaps, Washington-based Level Access, an industry-leading provider of digital accessibility solutions, recently launched its innovative new learning platform to help educate staff members spanning the breadth of an organization about the principles and practices of digital accessibility.
What makes their offering, named Access Academy, unique is the way it has been seamlessly integrated into everyday workflows – with opportunities for deep learning arising directly from access issues being flagged in real-time during accessibility audits.
In such a way, users retain the ability to learn on the job through text prompts and educational videos that trigger when specific accessibility fails are detected – making the training far more impactful and relevant to the end user than ever before.
This is in stark contrast to the old-fashioned way of providing accessibility training dating back over 20 years where trainers would visit the premises of clients and deliver face-to-face courses on accessibility-related topics lasting hours or over a period of days.
The problem with this siloed approach was that it was overly theoretical, making it difficult for participants to correlate the fairly technical and esoteric principles they were being taught with the day-to-day realities of their job role.
This picture then improved somewhat over the past six or seven years with the arrival of more online courses that were integrated directly into a corporation’s Learning Management System. These modalities offered greater flexibility around self-pacing for learning and made greater use of video materials.
Access Academy, which was announced earlier this month, takes this a step further with ultra-concise bite-size microlearning chunks consisting of videos that are highly targeted to the access task at hand, say, for example, adding alt tags to describe images, but last no longer than one to three minutes.
This capacity to inject training content directly into daily processes comes through integration with an organization’s audit suite or bug tracking tickets for project management software such as Jira.
In short, the potency and long-term value of the training lie in its immediacy and preoccupation with the here and now in relation to what the user is acting on.
As Tim Springer, CEO of Level Access explains, “With Access Academy, not only are learners likely to be more receptive to the training in the first place, their retention of knowledge is also enhanced. When training is just done in the classroom it becomes highly theoretical and the message gets diluted.”
Just as importantly for improving retention of knowledge, by making Access Academy’s teachings minimally disruptive, users are still able to focus on the core job at hand and view digital accessibility more as an embedded part of the process, rather than a frustrating sideline or distraction.
In addition to this task-orientated content, Access Academy also offers weekly live training sessions and zooms out to cover important industry topics like laws and regulations, mobile accessibility, testing tools and assistive technologies.
To keep things streamlined, relevant and person-centric, learning pathways are tweaked and tailored to different job roles with a unique accessibility footprint including content creators, designers, Quality Assurance professionals, web and mobile developers, members of the leadership team and legal and compliance officers.
To keep users motivated and to enhance continued professional development, leaderboard and gamification features exist to track progress in a fun way, while course completion badges can be added to LinkedIn profiles to ensure industry top talent is rightfully highlighted.
For corporate leaders who remain spooked by the potential complexities and pitfalls associated with digital accessibility and would rather just outsource the issue than learn how to get it right – this simply isn’t an economically sustainable model over the long term due to the sheer volume of accessibility issues that routinely crop up.
As Springer explains, “Outsourcing everything to do with accessibility will just never be cost-effective.”
He continues, “There’s a saying in the industry that 90% of all the different accessibility problems that can occur are caused by 10% of the most common fails. It’s the typical stuff like applying alt text to images, form field labeling, header structures etc.
“If we can just get the customer to be able to handle that 10% that model ends up being super cost-effective, works really well and scales like a dream. Part of the training, part of the microlearning is to get the customer to understand what is in that 10% that they should manage themselves and what’s in that 90% where they may need to reach out for help,” Springer says.
Nevertheless, within the training paradigm at least, by outsourcing a method of managing important information related to the technical nuts and bolts of accessibility – organizations have more time to raise their gaze and focus on the bigger picture.
“We’re increasingly finding, in accessibility, that people don’t care about the laws or digital standards anywhere near as much as they care about the experiences of disabled people and so it’s important to have those types of learnings that are emotionally compelling,” says Springer.
Removing some of the heavy lifting around accessibility training so staff teams possess greater bandwidth around the organization’s mission-critical values and where accessibility fits into this wider panorama – is surely an outright win for all stakeholders. Especially, those who intuitively appreciate why digital accessibility matters so much to so many.