Why providing accessible learning programs will help to address skills shortages in the manufacturing sector

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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Image credit: AMGC
Tony Maguire, regional director for Australia & New Zealand, D2L


The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 15 per cent of the world’s population, or over one billion people, live with some form of disability. In Australia, 18 per cent or 4.4 million people have a disability and 90 per cent of those have an invisible disability, according to a recent report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

With digital technology’s increasing role in everyone’s lives, ensuring accessibility has become more than just a necessity. It’s a critical aspect of workplace learning, especially in deskless industries like manufacturing. Manufacturers, associations and unions that create learning content for their employees and members should consider making their websites and other digital resources accessible to people with disabilities (PwD).

Accessible learning

To ensure that everyone can take advantage of educational opportunities, irrespective of circumstance, industries can make learning accessible by designing content and activities that support engagement and deeper learning. These activities must also help these learners demonstrate evidence of their knowledge and acquisition.

The full and independent participation of PwD in eLearning for the manufacturing sector is not just a matter of inclusivity; it is a smart business move. It holds the potential to address the sector’s current skills shortages, such as welders or machine operators, and offer a more promising future for the industry, enhancing productivity and innovation.

Accessibility laws

Legislation in many countries prohibits discrimination against PwD, ensuring their full and equal participation in every aspect of society, including education. In Australia, The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person because of their disability in many areas of public life, including employment, education, getting or using services, renting or buying a house or unit, and accessing public places.

Providing accessible learning experiences benefits everyone. By creating accessible learning content, the manufacturing sector can contribute significantly to a more inclusive and equitable society, fostering a strong sense of social responsibility and inclusivity.

Accessibility standards

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international community that develops open standards to ensure the long-term growth of the web, has developed extensive accessibility guidelines to ensure PwD can easily access digital services. If any organisation wants to focus on enabling functional accessibility of their eLearning content for users with disabilities, conforming with W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.2 is an excellent starting point.

WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind) provides guidelines to ensure web content is accessible to PwD. As a simple starting point, associations and organisations should adhere to WebAIM standards, particularly regarding colour contrast, which affects about one in 12 men (8 per cent) and one in 200 women (0.5 per cent) in Australia. Ensuring sufficient colour contrast between text and background makes the content readable for all users.

Learners may be neurodiverse, with conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia or autism. Current standards like WCAG primarily address issues like flashing or flickering content, but the industry needs to go beyond these current standards. Providing extra time for course completion and designing straightforward and easy-to-navigate eLearning content are essential steps in supporting neurodiverse learners.

Creating accessible learning content

To create accessible educational content, the manufacturing sector should consider various factors. Amy Morrisey, president of Artisan E-Learning, who participated in a recent podcast with us, emphasises the importance of developing learner personas. Basing these personas on the most common disability types will help providers of manufacturing education design training that caters to everyone’s needs, including visual, hearing, physical, speech and cognitive/learning disabilities.

Manufacturing associations and companies can take these three practical steps to create accessible learning content.

  1. Closed captioning and transcripts: Closed captioning for video content and transcripts for audio materials should be used. This will benefit those with hearing impairments and aid comprehension for all learners.
  2. Readable fonts and sizes: All fonts should be legible and appropriately sized. Many devices have built-in screen readers, so learning content should be compatible with these tools.
  3. Accessible tools and platforms: Google, Microsoft and Apple offer excellent features that enhance accessibility, and it is essential to ensure that the chosen learning management system adheres to W3C’s accessibility guidelines.

Conclusion

Creating accessible learning content is not just about compliance with legal requirements; it’s about fostering an inclusive and engaging learning environment for all. By prioritising accessibility, manufacturers and associations in this sector can reach broader audiences, enhance learning outcomes and demonstrate their commitment to inclusivity.

As Amy Morrisey suggests, understanding learner personas and leveraging the right eLearning tools and strategies can make all the difference in delivering accessible educational experiences. If the manufacturers invest in accessibility, the benefits will ripple across the sector, leading to a more engaged and satisfied learner community, which should also help reduce the skills shortage.