Book Review: Susi Miller’s Designing Accessible Learning Content: A practical guide to applying best-practice accessibility standards to L&D resources
In preparing The Book Report: Crowdsourced Favorites from L&D Professionals I was looking for titles valued as much-used, dog-eared resources, those books that had informed career paths, made enacting work much easier, inspired new points of view, provided long-term impact, that kind of thing. I was emphatically not after what people just happened to be reading at the moment.
Then I got a copy of Susi Miller’s brand-new Designing Accessible Learning Content: A practical guide to applying best-practice accessibility standards to L&D resources (2021: Kogan Page). This fills a big gap in our literature, which is as often as not specific to accessible web design rather than instructional materials like assessments, documents, and interactions like drag-and-drop exercises. Half philosophy reader and half technical manual, the book covers all the bases to bring a new practitioner up to speed while providing a handy at-the-ready reference for those looking for guidance about a specific issue (like “non-text contrast” or “consistent identification”).
Due to my past work setting I’ve written about the challenges I saw in making material accessible. Attitudes were a big problem, mostly from colleagues who didn’t think it was a big deal or were dismissive of the number of our learners who needed accommodations. Mostly, though, I saw designers too focused on the rules of making material “compliant” and not on the humans using that material. Miller addresses this at length, offering thoughtful exploration of what disability is and why we should care about the effects it can have on learning; this section includes welcome personas and case studies. This is followed by rarely-seen discussion of assistive technologies for different types of impairments and wrap-up information about the cases—ethical, legal, business, and learning—for committing to creating accessible materials and experiences for learning.
The book then shifts into technical manual mode. Miller organizes material here by frameworks and accessibility standards (WCAG; eLa; WCAG 2.1 level A , AA, and AAA accessibility standards; draft WCAG 2.2 draft standards. Information about the eLa (eLearning Accessibility) framework is provided in steps, from resource design to code. Guidelines for the WCAG framework are broken out by elements of the POUR structure (Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, Robust). She goes into great detail here: there are, for instance, six pages on non-text content, and four on error identification.
It all makes for an interesting resource. Settle in on the sofa for the first part, and sit down in front of a monitor for the second. Miller’s a good writer, with both an empathetic, relatable tone and ability to offer clear, no-nonsense directions. Chapters also include extensive endnotes for those wanting to dive deeper or consult original sources.
Designing Accessible Learning Content: A practical guide to applying best-practice accessibility standards to L&D resources is just a remarkable help for those of us concerned with digital accessibility. I anticipate this one becoming a standard resource for L&D practitioners.