In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools, colleges, and universities are implementing online learning. Before COVID-19, students could sometimes choose to take a course or program of study online. However, some online platforms or courses are not accessible for students with disabilities. As a result, these students could choose to take all courses in person. However, during COVID-19, online learning is no longer a choice. If a course or platform is not accessible for a student with a disability, schools and school boards must find ways to make that student’s online learning accessible. This urgent need for greater online accessibility shows us that web developers lack knowledge about the features allowing people with disabilities to navigate websites. Accessibility training for web designers after the COVID-19 pandemic would remove information barriers for future students.
Accessibility Training for Web Designers After the COVID-19 Pandemic
Web developers and other communications professionals should learn more about accessibility during any courses they take to educate themselves. These professionals should be prepared to design web layouts and content for all people, not just people without disabilities. Therefore, any courses or modules that teach people about web design should show them how to design accessibly. For example, they should be aware of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, which ensure that website content and layouts are accessible. Similarly, they could learn about the various ways people with disabilities access the web using assistive technology, such as:
- Keyboard or voice commands, instead of mouse clicking
- Screen readers
- Screen magnification
- Captioned audio
- Captioned and described video
Moreover, web developers could learn about how well, or badly, different designs interface with assistive technologies. Finally, they could also learn about the consequences of inaccessible web design on people’s independence. For instance, they could discover that if an online learning platform is not accessible, students with disabilities do not have equal opportunities to learn.
Mandatory online learning during COVID-19 shows us that all people should have equal access to all websites at all times. Therefore, accessibility training for web developers should also be mandatory. The government could mandate accessibility in professional training by requiring modules or courses about accessible design. Newly-trained web developers would know, at the start of their careers, how to serve people of all abilities. Likewise, professional development in web accessibility should also be required for people in mid-career. These modules or courses would ensure that practicing professionals add accessibility to their existing areas of expertise. Finally, the government could audit online learning platforms for accessibility and require schools to use only accessible platforms. This mandate would give web developers incentive to make their sites accessible enough for schools to choose as hosts for their courses.