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With so many instructional design models, online content and e-Learning development tools it’s easy to get overwhelmed with choices or waylaid by the tools themselves rather than the design.  On top of that, most instructional design models, frameworks or e-Learning development tools do not directly speak to the inclusion of accessibility. Rather, designers are left to span a bridge of designing instructionally sound products that only include some laws, such as Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act.  On the flip side, if accessibility needs to be incorporated into an e-Learning program after the design and development are done, costly rework and a lot of extra time will be spent. Retrofitting accessibility is frustrating and doesn’t effectively create equal access for many. If a designer is not aware that accessibility is more than a law and a large part of the design of a course, many learners inadvertently are left out.

So what is an instructional designer to do?

First, ramp up on accessibility in general if you haven’t done so already, or do some more research to learn what’s new in this domain. Then delve into overall online user experiences for people with disabilities and various learning styles when a web site or an e-Learning program is not accessible or usable. Put yourself in the shoes of these groups.

Next, how do you bridge the gap between realizing the need to include accessibility in your e-Learning design and actually making it happen?

Plan ahead!  Before any e-Learning development is initiated, you as the designer generally think about what the e-Learning will encompass, how it will look and how it will be used, right? Think about accessibility right from the start!

To walk through a general systematic instructional design process with accessibility already on our minds, let’s use the ADDIE framework (Molenda, 2003).  ADDIE stands for Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate. Providing an umbrella for the many steps in any instructional design process, for this purpose it will help demonstrate how and where to start including accessibility into your design.

Let’s get started with Analyze!

Before you get going with ADDIE and Analyze, most projects will require some planning and management. Your role is to work as or with the project manager at the project initiation to ensure he or she understands the importance of accessibility. This includes advising the customer or your team if they are not aware of the legal requirements for accessibility and Section 508, reviewing and knowing the customer’s (or your own) organizational guidelines, deciding on tools and delivery platforms, developing any templates to be accessible and integrating an accessibility (or Section 508) review process into any existing reviews.

That makes sense – planning for overall accessibility for the project starts before we delve into planning what the course is all about!

So, now that the project initiation and planning are set, let’s look at the Analyze and Design steps in the ADDIE framework. While the Analyze step identifies the who, what and where of the course in more detail, the Design is the heart of the entire project – laying the groundwork for how instructional strategies should and will be developed. If you integrate accessibility into these steps, a lot of headache and cost can be avoided later in the production.

Include accessibility as you work on identifying more details about the course and its content, the learning environment, content outlines, objectives and learning strategies. This can be done through knowledge and an in-depth review of the accessibility and features for the available technology to be used for building, developing and hosting the course. Think about accessibility as you develop learning strategies and assessments – if programmed, how will they work? Will they be accessible? Include this awareness in the design document and technical requirements documentation.

Once you complete your design document, you will commence with the Design step – whether you are creating storyboards or just writing content directly, consider the verbiage you use (even if not a standard, avoid words such as “click”), be cognizant of how you depict links or navigation, use relevant graphics, create meaningful alt text for all graphics and don’t use color as the sole means of conveying meaning to name a few items. Include well written and clear directions to the graphic designers and developers, as needed, to ensure the programmed version does not need to be reworked to be accessible.

But do you really need to do this if your audience does not include anyone with disabilities? It seems like a lot of extra work.  The answer is yes!

In terms of audience – as technology expands, more organizations are moving to e-Learning, and growing internationally, and it is harder to determine who exactly is in your audience. OK –so you do have a small audience. If you start including accessibility in all of your instructional design, no matter the audience, you will create a more universal course!  And as you start thinking of accessibility as part of the instructional design process, it will not seem like extra time or effort.

Next, if you’ve already kept accessibility in mind from the start, after completing the Develop step the main thing you will want to do is an accessibility test. You will want to use assistive technologies as well as live testers to go through each part of the course. Hopefully there will be little to no fixes on the accessibility side.

The Implement step will depend on what you are creating and for whom, but in any implementation, you or your customer will want to conduct a pilot test and make any final updates.  This should include another review for accessibility. Finally, if your project involves the Evaluate step, be sure to gather any information on how all users experienced the course.

Can you see the benefit of starting with accessibility? Planning it in at the start certainly can be advantageous and efficient!

To learn more about each ADDIE step, stay tuned for future blogs where we can discuss each in more detail, explore what questions to ask, what to include, and more!


Molenda, Michael (May/June 2003). In search of the elusive ADDIE model”. Performance improvement 42 (5), 34–37.

Strickland, A.W (2006). ADDIE . Idaho State University College of Education, Science, Math & Technology Education. Retrieved from http://ed.isu.edu/addie/index.html