Accommodating Various Abilities and Disabilities
Utilizing Exceptional Learners
Training sessions invariably have participants that come from a wide array of backgrounds and have various talents and levels of expertise. Some will be outspoken and others more withdrawn. Some will already have a background in accessible design, while others may have never heard of web accessibility. Training participants will also have a wide range of technical expertise, from die-hard developers that program in text editors to administrators who don't know what HTML stands for. It's important that you gain an understanding of, and then utilize, your training participants' skills and knowledge.
Web accessibility trainers must be flexible in the content they present. At the beginning of a training it may be beneficial to ask questions to determine the technical expertise of participants. It's also a good idea to ask questions to see what people are interested in and what they want or expect to learn from your training.
You need to be comfortable enough with your content to address what your audience desires. Sometimes training participants will predominantly be technically proficient, so you can spend less time covering some of the basic principles of web access and get to the content they want.
At other times, the audience may be much less skilled in technology or HTML, yet may have other areas of expertise or knowledge that can benefit the group. For example, you may have an individual with a disability who could share experiences using assistive technology, or an administrator who could underscore the criticality of accessible products. Many non-technical individuals can provide basic insights and ideas that otherwise wouldn't be considered. You should also consider that they might be overwhelmed if you immediately start presenting highly technical code to them.
Find ways to get the more skilled training participants to help with the training. Encourage them to interact with and help others. If they have experience in web accessibility, ask them to share their experiences. It is often this group of training participants that provides the rest of the group with information that will allow them to more effectively learn and apply the training content, especially after your training concludes.
Is Your Training Accessible?
One of the most uncomfortable experiences in accessibility training can occur if the content being presented is only marginally accessible to participants with disabilities. In many training contexts, participants can indicate ahead of time if they will need any special considerations. Yet, that is not a perfect science. It is best to just be prepared to always have an accessible training. Here are a few things to think about:
- If you are providing handouts or resources, make sure you have accessible versions. These would include an electronic copy of all handouts. They are easy to distribute from a flash drive, a location in the cloud, or on the web. Some participants may prefer Braille or large print versions of any paper resources. Getting preferences ahead of the training will help you deliver what is best for them.
- Are assistive technologies and services available? You may or may not be in control of your training set up and location, but when possible, ensure that assistive technologies are available to those who may need them. These might include screen readers, screen enlargers, assistive hardware, interpretive services, or captioning services.
- Are the web sites you plan on using or demonstrating accessible? Sometimes this is not what you intend. For example, you can use inaccessible web sites to emphasize the importance of web accessibility and demonstrate what not to do. On the other hand, when you are using online resources or tools, do your best to use the most accessible ones available.
- Is your presentation accessible? If you are using PowerPoint or other presentation software, you need to consider more than just its digital accessibility. Make sure to provide audible descriptions of content on the screen. Phrases such as "As you can see on the screen..." do not apply to everyone. When demonstrating software, explain audibly what you are demonstrating and describe the function of things that are not readily apparent (i.e., "Select the OK button on the Save As dialog box to save your file" instead of simply "Click OK" or "Click here to Save").
- If you have an interpreter for the deaf, or someone transcribing live captions during your event, consider the needs of these professionals. Situate them (or the microphone) close to you. Speak at a reasonable pace and enunciate. Remember that if a captioner is remote they may not be able to hear participant questions, so you will want to repeat them. Finally, ask the interpreter or captioner for feedback during breaks. You may be amazed at how a small change can make a large improvement.
Participants with disabilities can be very valuable assets in getting your point across to the other participants. They can provide insights and real-life experiences in a first-person setting that you, as a trainer, may not be able to provide. However, as with all participants, be sensitive to their willingness to provide feedback or insights.
- Learn the background and technical expertise of your training participants.
- Be willing and ready to adjust your content to address the needs of your audience.
- Encourage exceptional training participants to help with your training and to provide encouragement and support for other participants.
- Provide accessible versions of all applicable training resources.
- When possible, make sure assistive technologies and services are available.
- Develop and use accessible content yourself.
- Provide auditory descriptions of any visual content you are using, presenting, or demonstrating.