Why Accessibility-First Will Always Be Our Focus

small globe sitting on keyboard with large blue accessibility key

CourseArc’s founding story centers on creating better lifelong learning opportunities for all and removing barriers so everyone can learn. We saw firsthand the limitations that many products on the market had—especially when it came to accessibility—and worked to build a course authoring tool that would address that. That drive to create accessible online course content has remained at the forefront of everything we do. 

Developing accessible online content is fundamental to CourseArc’s overall diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion practices. Whenever we have new features and updates to our product, we take it through each of our core value lenses: Is it accessible? Is it equitable? Is it inclusive? Is it diverse? And if they don’t meet those values, how can we adjust to ensure they do? 

But why are we so focused on accessible design? And what are some critical items to consider when looking through an accessibility-first lens? 

Good Design is Accessible Design

Accessible design begins by weaving accessibility best practices throughout the design process to ensure the best user experience for people with visible and invisible disabilities. When design is accessible, it provides a better learning experience for everyone, not just some.

For example, for someone using a screen reader, every word–including the words to describe a decorative image–will be read out loud. It can be confusing to the person trying to understand the actual content.  

The Web Accessibility Initiative, part of the World Wide Web Consortium, establishes a set of international standards called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to make web content more accessible to users with disabilities. Criteria are provided to evaluate if content successfully conforms to WCAG. Compliance with accessibility guidelines is a legal requirement for public schools and higher learning institutions, but it’s so much more than that: it’s about setting students up for success by supporting them with equitable learning experiences.

CourseArc aims to be fully transparent on our WCAG compliance ratings, and is in the process of updating our VPAT. We also regularly provide tips and tools to help users create content that is more accessible, including our Accessibility Checklist for online courses.

Getting Input

In addition to utilizing our online course accessibility checklist and other resources to ensure your content and learning experience is equitable and inclusive for learners of all abilities, CourseArc recommends working with web accessibility specialists. Web accessibility specialists help identify opportunities for improvement and can help gather user feedback to gain a better understanding of how online content is performing for intended audiences. 

The International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) is a nonprofit that provides the Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC) credential. An IAAP CPACC-certified reviewer can offer essential clarity in determining compliance and pinpointing what is working and what could work better.

Quote from client: “We sought the CourseArc team out for their accessibility expertise. In addition to her deep knowledge of methodology, engagement and adult learning, Jill’s proficiency in accessibility helped us transform our content into a user-friendly learning experience that was well beyond my vision. I could not have asked for a more skillful partner and guide in completing this project!” –Melissa Farr, Training and Program Manager, Center for Health and Learning

When you opt to use CourseArc, you can rest assured that we regularly work with and build our product in tandem with web accessibility experts. We do not publish new features without it going through rigorous testing. In addition to testing and thorough quality assurance, we also enlist feedback and improvement suggestions from real users (many of which are the source of our recent updates listed below!). Because we are regularly testing and adding new features and improvements, our users can be confident they are meeting online accessibility guidelines and standards when using our product. 

Summary of Accessibility Updates 

To continue improving on lifelong learning for all, CourseArc recently made updates that make it easier for learners to navigate using a keyboard or screen reader. Here are just a few:

  • Decorative Images
    • Learners using screen readers have the option to hide decorative images during their session. Screen readers automatically read everything on the screen, including decorative images, so it can be disrupting to a listener and cause confusion. This option provides a better user experience so learners are able to focus solely on the content.
  • Keyboard Navigation
    • Several blocks have been updated to improve access and interaction via keyboard.
  • Improved Labeling
    • Updated the glossary to improve labeling of page regions and updated self-check blocks to ensure all areas and fields are clearly labeled and understood. This update enables users utilizing screen readers to better understand the purpose of each text box. For example, hot spots now show the item number and the total number of items (i.e. 1 of 3). Links also inform screen reader users if it opens a new window. 
  • Language Attributes
    • This new feature applies an HTML tag to non-English languages in blocks within the WYSIWYG text editor.  Language tags may be assigned to text with the Select Language dropdown in the Accordions, Cloze, Content, and Tabs blocks. To help content creators manage tags, different colors may be applied for each language in edit mode. This feature is helpful because a screen reader looks for the language tag so that it can read the content with appropriate pronunciation.

Language Tagging example in the CourseArc platform

  • Page Titles
    • The titling of CourseArc-related browser tabs has been improved for a better screen reader experience allowing content editors and learners to find the content they need more easily. This update ensures that all elements are labeled in such a way that users understand their purpose. 

Sample browser tab open with unique page titles

Looking Forward 

New best practices continue to be developed alongside new technologies to ensure that accessibility isn’t an afterthought. Designing online content with accessibility in mind is our focus and accessibility will continue to be woven into the process at all stages of development.

Learn more about how to develop with accessibility in mind and reach out if you want to see additional online course accessibility features, tips, and updates.

CourseArc was built to support organizations as they build online content. Check out our resource site to see how we can help your team. See our tool in action and then check our blog and social media feeds for additional resources and case studies on how our clients are using CourseArc. Take your learning and development goals and budget to the next level.