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LMS accessibility: 6 ways to improve online learning accessibility

Published July 19th, 2022

Accessibility is no longer a nice-to-have within your learning management system (LMS). It’s become a must-have and in some industries, it’s required for compliance.

Jeff Stoermer

Marketing Automation Manager at Tiny


Thanks to greater awareness and growing legal requirements, learning institutions and organizations must now provide accessible websites, apps, and LMS platforms. In all honesty, the need had always been there, but thanks to COVID-19 – which accelerated online learning around the world – it became even more obvious that content needed to be designed so it was accessible to all students, learners and backend users of a LMS, no matter their ability or location.

One of the biggest benefits of our tech-driven world, is the ease with which you can rectify an issue that was previously difficult (and expensive) to identify and maintain. It’s now simple to make sure that your workplace and learning platforms are accessible and inclusive for all. The technology is readily available to monitor, manage and rectify the accessibility (or not) of your teaching and learning materials.

But what does LMS accessibility mean? And how accessible is yours? Let’s cover some of the basics and then six ways you can improve the accessibility of your LMS.

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What is LMS accessibility?

LMS accessibility covers aspects of UX such as design principles and functionality, not the least of which are the physical, economic, cultural, and social barriers that might prevent users (teachers and subject matter experts) as well as learners and students from accessing, understanding, or using your learning management system. Accessibility should make it easier and more enjoyable for both users and learners to create and engage with your materials.

Because LMSs have become the main platforms for the delivery of knowledge in most course related activities, the UX of your LMS should create learning content that is accessible (and mirror-image in every aspect) for both non-disabled learners and those with disabilities. Beyond being user-friendly, the learning outcomes generated from those materials should also flexibly accommodate the needs of those with visual, auditory, cognitive or mobility disabilities.

However, according to AccessComputing, an alliance that works to increase the participation of people with disabilities in computing fields, accessibility of the LMS interface is only part of the solution:

Even in a fully accessible LMS, an instructor or course developer can easily create an inaccessible course by creating inaccessible pages within the course that don't include proper heading structure or that include images without alt text. They can also break accessibility by uploading inaccessible PDFs or other digital documents, videos that lack captions or audio description, and other inaccessible course materials.

Therefore it’s important to ensure your LMS accessibility work is far-reaching and more rigorous than just including alt text in images, checking color contrast and adding descriptive links.

Why is online learning accessibility important?

According to WHO, around 15% of the population is living with a disability. That can be both physical and cognitive, or it can impact a user’s ability to access and interact with online learning platforms. The COVID surge in online learning broadened the awareness that both LMS providers and the institutions they serve, needed to ensure LMS accessibility in all of their online learning environments.

Blackboard, one of the most prominent LMS systems used by the US education industry, reported record-breaking use of its EdTech solutions from August 1 through September 30, 2020. They’re committed to providing accessibility learning environments, including compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

The World Wide Web Consortium, the international standards organization for the WWW, set up the WCAG guidelines for content on the internet. These guidelines are widely referenced and an excellent starting point for making your LMS accessible to all users.

Access Computing again provide another reason why it’s important to make your LMS accessible:

One accessibility benefit of using an LMS is that many students with disabilities have the greatest success in accessing web content when it is presented using a consistent layout. If an educational institution standardizes on a particular LMS package, students at that institution will likely encounter the same online course interface for many of their classes throughout their academic career.

Finally and by no means less important, the provision of accessible content is rapidly becoming a legal requirement. An increasing number of court cases are happening globally, thereby making accessible content a legal concern, where you cannot risk your product, or team, being caught out or unprepared.

6 ways to improve your learning management system accessibility

Whether you have an existing learning management system, are considering upgrading and improving, or newly researching the opportunity, here are six ways to improve your LMSs accessibility:

Get to know your users

When you’re scoping your LMS, make sure you understand your users. Get to know them (and their needs) by conducting focus groups or surveys. Collect anonymized information on ethnicity, cultural background, language, age range, location, devices, browsers, and impairments.

Some disabilities that may impact access and how your LMS content is used include dyslexia, mobility (difficulty using a mouse or keyboard), visual impairment, hearing impairments, and deafness.

Then, once you’re in the prototyping stage, conduct user testing to make sure your system can be accessed and used by all user groups. Even if you’ve already launched, user testing is a valuable way to understand and appreciate the way your audience accesses your content.


Provide content in multiple formats

It’s important to provide your content in more than one format. That way, users who can’t access video content can read the transcription or listen to it through their screen reader. And users who learn best visually, can watch the video instead of reading the article. Always provide text alternatives for non-text based content (like captions and transcriptions for videos) and alt text for images.


Consider different devices and user experiences

Users (especially those with disabilities) access content on a variety of devices. Some use screen readers, others navigate using just a mouse, and some only use their keyboard. Your learning management system should be responsive to different screen sizes and be fully functional via keyboard or mouse.


Choose colors and shades carefully

Always check your colors to ensure appropriate contrast, especially between fonts and backgrounds.

Also, consider color-blindness when choosing colors, as this condition affects around 8% of men and 0.5% of women. Red-green color-blindness is the most common type, although some people have blue-yellow color-blindness, and a small percentage only see black, white, and shades of gray. It’s a good idea to test your learning management system in “color-blind mode” to ensure the design is accessible to your color-blind users.


Get plenty of feedback

Be open and welcome feedback about your learning management system. Show how you’re using feedback and suggestions to make your platform more accessible. And of course, make it easy for users to give feedback and ask for help when it’s needed via chat, email, or phone.


Use accessible platforms and plugins

If you’re looking into learning management systems or you’re planning to upgrade your current system, look for platforms and plugins that prioritize accessibility.

TIP

LMS accessibility is quite similar to website accessibility. So if you’d like to do some further reading on accessibility best practices, you might like our blog post on 12 tips for making your website accessible.

TinyMCE and LMS accessibility

TinyMCE has many advanced features that can help improve accessibility in your LMS. These include:

  • Our accessibility checker plugin – This automatically points out accessibility issues (like missing image alt text) and can either fix the issue automatically or help your authors fix it before publishing
  • Built-in keyboard shortcuts – Perfect for keyboard-only users and we’re compatible with screen readers such as JAWS and NVDA as we follow the WAI-ARIA specification
  • Cross-browser compatibility – Which means all our text-editing features work no matter how your users access your learning management system (including Firefox, IE, Chrome, Opera, and Safari)
  • Real-time collaboration — our real-time collaboration feature can enable students and teachers to work on a document at the same time, and see what each other are doing. This allows the teacher to better help a student remotely, especially in online learning environments.

Many of the best learning management systems already come with TinyMCE built-in, including Blackboard, Canvas, McGraw Hill, Blackbaud, and Kiddom.

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Create a more effective, accessible LMS

Talk to your team about LMS accessibility and see how your current platform performs. And feel free to reach out to us directly for more information and guidance.

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