Rise 360: How to Design an Accessible Course

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Accessibility in e-learning is a key element of course design. But what is accessibility, really? It’s more than a collection of standards and requirements. Accessibility is ensuring your learners can focus on your content and not be distracted by roadblocks. With Rise 360, we’ve removed a lot of those roadblocks for you with features like video closed captions (in multiple languages), accessible text support via browser extensions, and a ton more

Creating accessible content isn’t just something you have to do to meet standards. When you enhance the accessibility of your content, everyone benefits. The need for extra accommodations affects more than just those with permanent physical or neurological impairment. The need can be a temporary one imposed by illness or environment. Craft your content to meet your learners where they’re most comfortable.

So where to start? In this article, you’ll find specific ways you can help learners interact as fully as possible with your Rise 360 courses.

Design Your Course with Accessibility in Mind

Let learners with impairments know they’re an integral part of your audience right from the start. Provide accessibility instructions at the beginning of your course so they’re immediately comfortable with its layout and design. Mention things like the fact that they can navigate directly to lesson content, skipping the sidebar navigation, when tabbing through a course with a screen reader. You can even link to this article on keyboard-accessible shortcuts so that learners can familiarize themselves with alternate navigation in Rise 360. 

Keyboard navigation is just a piece of the accessibility puzzle, however. Here are some other helpful tips to keep in mind as you design your course.

  • Heading blocks and content labels do more than just organize your course. Breaking long sections of content into discreet, clearly labeled parts helps many types of neurodivergent learners. They also make it easier to navigate for learners using screen readers. 
  • Consistency is key. When you use an object or interaction more than once, be sure to identify it the same way each time. For example, if you use button blocks to jump to other locations, label them consistently throughout your course.
  • Use the feedback field for quiz questions and knowledge checks. Give learners feedback or instructions so they know what’s expected when they respond incorrectly.
  • A flashing .GIF or intense video might provide some visual pizzazz, but it could also trigger seizures in sensitive learners. Don’t use videos or animations that flash or blink more than three times per second. If you’re not sure, use this tool to analyze your video.
  • Give learners text-based alternatives for non-text content. Use alt text to describe images. Use text blocks or labeled graphic blocks to provide expanded descriptions for complex images, such as charts and maps. For audio and video blocks, use the caption field to describe the purpose of the media. 
  • If you use text on an image, make sure the image opacity is set so that learners with visual impairments can differentiate between text and background image. Keep a close eye on image to text contrast ratio for graphics (such as buttons) as well. It should be at a 3:1 for large text and 4:5:1 for normal text, at minimum.

Inaccessible Blocks

The blocks listed below aren’t yet WCAG 2.1 conformant. If you use them in your lessons, you’ll want to provide alternatives as well, such as a text block that summarizes the same information.

  • Quote and image carousels aren't fully keyboard accessible and don't have a defined hierarchy.
  • Scenario blocks don't support alt text.
  • Sorting activity blocks don't have accessible instructions or status messages. 
  • Matching knowledge checks don't provide a meaningful sequence or a defined hierarchy when accessed via screen reader. They also aren't keyboard accessible and don't provide accessible instructions or status messages. 

Our ultimate goal is content creation in Rise 360 without worrying if its components are accessible. We're working diligently to achieve accessibility for learners without exceptions. As we work towards that goal, we recommend checking out this guide to choosing accessible content components.

Make Visual Content Accessible

Why “visual” content and not “video” content? Because there’s a lot more to your course than just videos! While making sure a visual medium like online coursework is accessible can seem daunting, it’s actually not too hard once you get some basics in place. 

Visual impairments cover a wide spectrum, including low vision, color blindness, and total blindness. It could also include learners who find it difficult to read on-screen text due to learning disabilities or because the course language is a second language for them. Since it’s such a broadly encompassing category, let’s break it down by specific accommodations.

Screen Readers

Learners often use screen readers to experience e-learning courses, so it’s important to note that Rise 360 supports JAWS, NVDA, VoiceOver, and TalkBack screen readers with our supported browsers.

  • Be sure to use text blocks to convey important information rather than importing images of text, which can’t be read by assistive tools.
  • Set the course language in your text labels and screen readers will use that language to properly pronounce the interface elements and course content.
  • Tables don’t just organize your content visually, they communicate to screen readers how content is organized, which can then provide context to the learner. Click here for more on adding tables in Rise 360. 

Contrast Ratio

Rise 360 interface elements already meet minimum contrast requirements, but you’ll want to make sure your design choices follow guidelines as well. If you’re ever uncertain, here’s a helpful contrast checker to determine your contrast ratio.

  • When choosing text color, you’ll want to use a contrast ratio of 4.5:1 or higher. This ensures that learners with low vision can read it.  
  • Provide alternatives when color is used to convey important information or instructions. Learners with color blindness might not see the differences in your color choices. Use a 4:5:1 contrast ratio between normal-sized clickable text and static text (3:1 for large text) and consider using patterns, textures, or text to make different areas of an image stand out (like the bars of a chart). 
  • Be sure your Rise 360 accent color and block background color have a 3:1 contrast ratio or higher when adjacent to non-text content, such as buttons, charts, and other graphical elements.

Audio and Text Descriptions

The important thing to remember when adding a visual element to your course, be it an image, video, or pie chart, is that learners who can’t see it need a way to get the information from it. 

  • If you do include videos in your course, you’ll want to include text-based descriptions in a subsequent text block. Alternately, you can create audio descriptions in a separate app, then import them into Rise 360. For example, sync audio descriptions with a video in Storyline 360, and then publish the slide as a video file.
  • For images, include meaningful alternative text (alt text) that clearly describes what’s being shown. Luckily, it’s easy to add in Rise 360. If you need tips for writing good alt text, check out page 8 of our accessibility e-book!
  • Provide a detailed text description of or consider an alternate, keyboard-accessible interaction for drag-and-drop interactive blocks while we work to optimize keyboard navigation. 

Make Audio Content Accessible

Closed captions are key for making audio content accessible to learners who can’t hear your content (for whatever reason, be it physiological or environmental). You can learn all about adding closed captioning to videos in Rise 360 here. Note that Rise 360 doesn’t currently support captions for audio blocks. 

You should also give learners text-based alternatives for audio-only content. Use a text block or an accordion interaction with a single tab to display a transcript. If the transcript is short, you can even use the caption field for the audio block.

Make Interactive Content Accessible

Rise 360 provides instructions for interactions with the exception of sorting activities, carousel interactions, flashcards, and matching drag-and-drop questions. Until we make these interactions fully accessible, you’ll want to use a text block to provide instructions.

Sorting and drag-and-drop interactions are also difficult to navigate with a keyboard. If you use them in your course, provide text-based alternatives or a description of the information they need to know from the interaction. 

Get Help When You Need It

Want to go deeper? Check out our Rise 360 Voluntary Product Accessibility Template® (VPAT®) and our free e-book on designing accessible e-learning.

Also, visit http://webaim.org for comprehensive web accessibility solutions, including training, tools, and community support.

And when you need help, just post a question at E-Learning Heroes, the largest, most engaged e-learning community in the world. There are over 1,000,000 members eager to help. Chances are someone has already worked through a problem you’re experiencing and will have wisdom to share.