After working on accessibility for the last 2 years, I took some time to reflect on the experience and how it relates to digital equity. You can download a formal document proposal here.
I am an instructional designer for a tech company and I work on designing and developing the online training materials we use to educate sales associates in retail stores to sell through our product, a field sales team to train those sales associates, and district managers who train those field sales agents and try to sell the product in to retail.
To make it slightly more complicated, each one of these sales associates is actually part of a smaller group – their specific retail account. We have 21, but our three main accounts are Staples, Best Buy, and Office Depot/Max.
We manage all of these trainings from a few main LMSs, and we use a combination of Articluate Storyline’s RISE and custom LMSs that support PDF, Video, and HTML-loaded asset types. No matter the end channel, all of our training content consists of the same core assets: A video, images, and copy.
How that material is used based on the LMS it will live on. Some we launch the course as an interactive eLearning module, some we launch as a series of small PDF, HTML, and video files.
So as you can see, there is a lot production going on and it’s my job to develop or work with the assets I am given to produce the proper solution based on my audience. I am busy and there’s not a lot of time to spare to add to the workflow.
Here’s the last thing: We are not ADA compliant because we are not a government or educational institution. We don’t have to follow and section 508 compliance rules. In the summer of 2017 I received an email from a department looking for participants to be part of a 2 day on field workshop called the CU Diversity on Campus Workshop. The learning objectives of this training included prviding a conceptual framework to help graduate teachers and researchers develop their own approach to inclusive teaching and to expanding diversity in all aspects of their instruction and laboratory work.
This workshop completely changed my perspective on how I was designing training. No one at my organization was teaching me about this topic (presumably because it wasn’t mandated), and I had only recently begun the ILT program and had only so far learned about designing my base camp, so I hadn’t had much experience with the concepts.
I learned a tremendous amount not only about the importance of things like closed captioning, alt text, and color blindness, but also around digital equity in terms of accessibility. How providing multiple versions of the same learning solution wasn’t only to cater to learning styles and preferences, but to provide a solution that is most comfortable to the learner.
Since then I have been busy finding tools that are low cost or free that allow my organization to implement accessibility features quick and cheap. I found out YouTube will automatically generate closed captions on a video for you if you upload it and then you can edit those captions and even download the caption file. I discovered Vimeo has a built-in video compressor, so when we need to launch videos on mobile devices and downloading and streaming data is a concern, being able to post smaller versions is convenient.
Working with PowerPoint, I noticed there’s a built-in accessibility checker, so you can check to ensure your presentations are not only with proper alt text and in the right order for any accessibility readers for the vision impaired, it also checks a presentation to ensure no color choices or design issues arise for those with color blindness. PowerPoint even explains the steps required to fix your problem.
At this point, I really wanted to help raise awareness to other instructional designers and eLearning developers about the tools I had uncovered, so when the opportunity in a class presented itself I conducted a webinar on how to add captions to a video.
This evolved into a group webinar project where we also provided how-to guides to accompany videos that taught our peers how to add these to their training and teaching
I was really happy with the work I was creating, but I wasn’t making any progress with captioning videos back at work. See, our video player on our most dominant LMS doesn’t offer a caption toggle on/off button, so if we put captions into the video, they have to be burned in. This is called open captioning.
While I had discovered tools to help us make or generate, then download and have stand alone caption files for our videos, none of our existing tools were able to create an open caption video, and it was clear it was something we were going to have to invest in.
Of course, because we are not ADA compliant, it’s important for me to make a case as to why this would be a good return on our investment. My organization decided we would download a free trial version of an open caption software and include a video with open captions. We would make our audience aware of it, not to catch them by surprise, and then ask them for their opinion on it following the course. Our question was: What do you think of the captions (in the OC example)?
Our results were astoundingly positive. So positive in fact, it was impossible to ignore the implementation and the investment in the technology. 86% of our audience said captions were very or slightly helpful and only 4.7% found it some way distracting. And we tested a lot of people! What was really interesting for me was reading some of the free responses and learning that people were taking our training content on the go in all kinds of noisy environments. We were underestimating where, when, and how our content was being taken.
You would be surprised to learn just how much something like this affects training design, but since these results I have been working with our creative agency to ensure we no longer produce videos where any on screen graphics are in the lower portion of a screen since that will now be occupied by captions.
I also wanted to get this kind of information out to other parts of our organization, and took advantage of the ILT 5200 assignment of a mini course build and created a step by step guide on how to create multiple, accessibility friendly learning materials from one foundation of information. I hope to see this course reach others outside my organization to raise awareness over digital equity in the workplace and let others know that implementing accessibility practices in a lesson is not only cheap, but easy and important.
In the future, I would love to continue to work with accessibility and digital equity implementation best practices. I would like to present and speak at conferences in my field and even see more attention to it within the ILT program than it currently has. There are so many new and emerging fields and mediums to use for training online and accessibility is usually an afterthought with development. I want to continue to raise awareness around its importance and ease so that becomes an omnipresent design strategy.