For the fourth episode of E-Learning Council’s Leaders in Learning Podcast, we interview Microassist’s senior learning architect and ELS Speaker, Kevin Gumienny on Accessible E-Learning.
In this wide ranging conversation we talk about:
- What is Accessible E-Learning?
- Why Accessible E-Learning?
- How to get Started Developing E-Learning
- Rapid E-Learning Tools and Accessible E-Learning
- Lessons learned at CSUN and Access U 2017
Accessible E-Learning Resources
Texas Department of Information Resources, EIR Accessibility Tools, Training, and Related Resources
On the cost of remediating for accessibility, Ryan Strunk and Joe Lonsky, “Accessibility and Design: Where Productivity and Philosophy Meet,” presented at 2017 CSUN
Cathy Moore on limiting the use of graphics in elearning scenario design “What’s the Real Cost of Eye Candy?”
On writing great alternative text, Whitney Quesenbery, “Writing Great Alt Text,” presented at AccessU 2017
On the spreadsheet that Paul Adam uses to create accessibility reports, Paul J Adam, “Creating Accessibility Reports Designers and Developers Will Love,” presented at AccessU 2017
Transcript of Interview with Microassist’s Kevin Gumienny
Announcer: You’re listening to a Leaders and Learning Podcast from eLearning Council. The mission of eLearning Council is to advance eLearning for a community that provides leadership, best practices, and resources in a collaborative environment.
Today we are here with Kevin Gumienny. Kevin’s the Senior Learning Architect at Microassist. Kevin, welcome. Could you tell us a little bit about what Microassist does and what a Senior Learning Architect does?
Kevin Gumienny: Thanks, Sanjay. It’s really good to be here and I’m really honored to participate in this podcast on Leaders and Learning. I’ve listened to the previous ones and really enjoyed hearing the conversations that you’ve had with Clark and Katrina and Alex. Microassist is a training company and we tend to train people and develop learning and training people and all kinds of formats. So we do face-to-face training or instructor-led training, we do eLearning, we do self-directed eLearning, we do blended learning projects, which is always a lot of fun because you get to see the way and work with the way those different modalities tend to interact. And key to all of our training efforts is that we do try to make this training accessible. Accessible to those with various kinds of disabilities.
As for me, my title is Senior Learning Architect and what that really is means that I’ve got the most fun job on the planet, right? Because I get to work with people. And I get to work with training. And I get to figure out what makes effective training and all the little different combinations of it. I get to talk about instructional design, I get to touch course development, I get to touch project management to make sure that the training and the learning that comes out of our efforts is really the best adapted and creates the most effective learning experiences overall. And what we tend to find is that the way to create the most effective learning experience is to really pay attention to making our training accessible to all learnings.
Sanjay Nasta: Today we’re gonna focus our conversation on accessible eLearning, especially considering you’ve been to two conferences on accessibility, which is the CSUN conference out in California, and recently Access U. Can you tell our audience a little bit about what accessible eLearning is?
Kevin Gumienny: Accessible eLearning is eLearning that’s available to people, to all learners. We can think about accessibility in that restricted sense, where it’s sort of like encoded in federal law and we see some things coming in terms of lawsuits. That means that it has to be accessible to people who have certain kinds of disabilities, visual, hearing, cognitive, mobility disabilities. But I tend to think about accessible eLearning more in the context of making it available to all learners. We want to reach all our learners, no matter where we are. No matter what we’re doing. Some of that as a Senior Learning Architect, I will design interactions that engage people’s memories, that play on their emotions, that work with stories, and I use various kinds of research-proven methods, such as practice testing and space learning. I use all of these things to get that learning into somebody’s head to help it stick and help change behavior.
In order to do that, it’s not only important just to use those techniques, but also to make sure that that learning is available to people who have visual disabilities, or someone who has a hearing disability, or someone who can’t use a mouse. So it’s designing eLearning that takes advantage and uses many ways of reaching our learners as possible so that we can reach and make connections with our learners, that really makes eLearning …
Sanjay Nasta: And you kinda hit a little bit on my next question, which is the why of accessible eLearning. You mentioned the laws and you can go into that a little bit deeper, but you also mentioned some of the more practical reasons for making learning accessible. Can you elaborate on that?
Kevin Gumienny: Sure. When we’re thinking about the laws, there are federal and a lot of states have regulations that mandate that training or more specifically, that mandate that electronically delivered information. Usually it’s electronic and information technology, and it also is the more information communication technologies is a more current term that’s incorporated in a lot of the laws and standards, has to be accessible. A lot of people think about … there’s a federal regulation called Section 508, and that mandates that information and communication technologies, of which eLearning is a part, needs to meet certain standards for the federal government. It’s really a procurement standard. That’s something that Jeff Kline, who runs the Department of Information Resources in Texas, has made a point repeatedly, and I think it’s really good, that Section 508 is a procurement standard, which means that if you’re selling something to the federal government, or if the federal government, if you’re working for the federal government, a federal agency, it has to meet these standards.
But that doesn’t apply to everybody. If you’re a Texas state agency, Texas has a couple of regulations, called Tack 206 and 213 that apply or sort of mandate that your stuff has to be accessible. And the last of the legal things that I’ll mention is the American Disabilities Act. Recently, we’ve seen the Department of Justice interpret the Americans with Disabilities Act to apply to the Internet, which encompasses eLearning. That’s kind of a weird thing because the ADA doesn’t say anything about the Internet. It was made back in 1990. The Internet was just a bunch of geeks in university campuses were using the Internet then. It wasn’t anywhere near as widespread as it is today.
But what we find is that some people, especially institutions and organizations, they’re advocates for people with disabilities, are pushing the ADA in new directions. So we see that a lot of educational institutions, the banking industry, the big one back in the 2000s was Target sued for its website not being accessible. So there’s that push, that “Hey, if you don’t make your stuff accessible, including your eLearning, including your online training, you’re gonna get sued.” And that’s that big stick that’s right behind you. And you know, that’s what some people need to move them forward. But I think really, the engaging way, the why I think accessibility, why I have a passion for making eLearning accessible, is because it’s about reaching learners. Not everybody is fully sighted. Not everybody has the full ability to hear or cognitive … people have cognitive disabilities or able to use a mouse, right. So let’s design our learning so that it can reach all learners.
The other thing is that we’re not … people think about disabilities, they tend to think of those who are permanently disabled. But I think it’s really important to remember that we’re all in a certain sense, we’re all just waiting to be disabled. I mean I’m kinda getting up there. And about five years ago I found myself reaching for reading glasses, which means that it’s just a natural factor of aging. So I might … one of the standards says that you should be able to zoom something on a computer screen up to 200%, so you can see it. I don’t have to wear glasses to drive, I wear reading glasses, but I might take advantage of that just because I can’t see as well anymore. I might zoom it up so I don’t have to put on my reading glasses or if I forget my reading glasses.
Sanjay Nasta: The other factor that’s also pushing us is the demographics of our population. Our population’s aging and as you mentioned, both of us are wearing reading glasses and mobility issues are certainly coming into play. And honestly, for the younger generation, they access a lot of their learning on mobile, where it might be in a crowded environment. So you have to account for accessibility even for a person who has perfect vision and perfect hearing normally.
Kevin Gumienny: One of the big things about accessibility is making sure that all videos are closed captioned. And I have seen a statistic, I can’t source it at the moment, but I’ve seen a statistic that has stated that the primary consumer of closed captioning is actually airports. So you’ve got that screen up when you’re sitting waiting for the plane and because your newscasts, which is most often what they are, are closed captions now everybody can consume it.
Sanjay Nasta: Definitely. Restaurants, too. Bars, too. So Kevin, what excited you about accessibility?
Kevin Gumienny: I hate to sound like a broken record, but I really think it is this idea of being able to reach such a broad audience in making that connection. One of the things that I always enjoyed when I was teaching face-to-face, was seeing the students eyes light up. I think that’s something that you see common in just about every teacher, is just when that connection’s made. I do some face-to-face work, but I really do a lot of my stuff in online training, which is great, but I don’t get that connection. At the same time when I have that accessibility aspect, when I’m designing not just for my expected learner, but I’m making sure that my stuff is designed so that it will reach everybody it can reach. It gives me a replica of that little thrill of, “Hey, you know what, I’m connecting with everybody that I can.”
Sanjay Nasta: When do you prefer starting to work on accessibility when you’re starting to create learning?
Kevin Gumienny: From the very beginning. When I first start to sit down with a project, that’s when I start factoring in accessible issue. There’s a lot that goes into accessibility and there are places that we can direct people to to kind of give them some more grounding and accessibility. So I’m just gonna talk in a few examples. One of the examples that I like to use, because I’ve seen it happen so often, is color contrast. If the color contrast isn’t good enough, if somebody is color blind, they can’t really see it, and besides which, when was the last time you’ve seen the latest design trends that have that light gray text on a white background. Who really can read that? We want to make sure that there’s sufficient color contrast so that we can draw differentiation between the text and the background.
If I wait until I’m doing my quality assurance pass or my testing pass to run a color contrast checker, I’ve got 60, 100 slides of eLearning that now, if it fails, I’ve got to go back and redo all of those. Whereas if I start accessibility at the beginning, if I start it when I’m sitting down and actually plotting out my visual design and I run my color contrasting then, then it’s built in, it’s baked in, and then when I get down to QA, it’s just a matter of checking a box because I thought about it at the very beginning, and I so I see that happen for each of the ways in which we’re gonna make learning accessible started at the appropriate point in the learning process. Don’t wait and try to do it all at the end.
Sanjay Nasta: You mentioned Jeff Kline earlier and one of his quotes says, “If you start accessibility in the testing phase you’ve started way too late.”
Kevin Gumienny: You mentioned CSUN a little bit earlier, and one of the most persuasive arguments that I saw at CSUN, he had done a series of studies about the cost of remediating of accessibility, and essentially said, you fix it in where it belongs at the beginning, that’s cost. If you wait until the testing phase, it’s like 60 times the cost it would if you had just factored in the beginning. If you wait until it’s out in the wild, and you’ve actually deployed your eLearning and then are trying to fix something, it’s like 100 times the cost of what it would’ve cost you if you dealt with it at the beginning.
Sanjay Nasta: We can definitely link to that study in the show notes. What are some of the things that cause resistance to people, including accessibility in the design process?
Kevin Gumienny: I think there are different levels of resistance. To a certain degree, you have people who are creating eLearning, can kinda be resistant about it. I think also you have people who are running the project and maybe higher-ups. The sad factor of it is that making your stuff accessible, it’s gonna cost you more. But you know what, the other thing that’s gonna cost you more is making your eLearning interactive, making sure you have a pleasing visual design, making sure that all of your error correct, that all of your programming works well. And accessibility, I think, needs to be treated just like one of those. It’s just a factor of design. I see a lot of resistance in instructional design because there’s a big push, it’s a very important push, in fact Clark Quinn talks about this all the time. You need to make eLearning enticing, you need to make it engaging. When we first started eLearning, Carl Kapp made a point like this. He said basically we took the very worst of instructor-led training, PowerPoints, and we slapped it into a computer screen.
There’s been a strong, growing push to make eLearning engaging and interactive. And there’s this fear that when you get to making eLearning accessible, “Hey, I can’t use the mouse anymore. I can’t use my slider” that’s the new tool that came on. “I can’t do drag and drops. I can’t do hotspots because I can’t use a mouse.” And a lot of people tend to look at engaging eLearning, something they’ve been striving to make better all this time, and then they look at accessibility and say, “Oh, gosh. Now I can’t do any of that.” And I think that’s fundamentally mistaken because yes, yes, it’s true that you’re not gonna be able necessarily to use your slider. You’re not gonna be able to use a drag and drop, but what that means is that you need to become more inventive on how you can make something engaging.
Cathy Moore, which perhaps we can also link to in the course notes, had a great article that had nothing to do with accessibility. What it was, was about visual design. And she said, “Hey, if I spent all this time making this very visually engaging, it doesn’t really … it’s kind of engaging, it’s fun to look at it, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. Whereas if I strip all that visual stuff, all that time I spent making it visually pleasing and I just have a background and then I have a series of multiple questions that form a scenario, I’ve engaged my learner with that.” Now they’re engaging judgment. It’s not the clickety-click bling bling stuff, it’s getting their attention and making it stick.
She doesn’t make this point in her article, but when I looked at that, I’m thinking, “Wow, you know what, a series of multiple choice questions that can be navigated by the keyboard, that’s accessible eLearning. It’s engaging, accessible eLearning.” I think there is some resistance because we’ve been pushing for engaging eLearning, but I think the trick is, you say, “Okay, let’s make it engaging. Let’s work within our limits and then let’s push design within those areas. Let’s not give up on making eLearning engaging. Let’s just make sure that it’s available to all learners.”
Sanjay Nasta: It’s a constraint that drives creativity basically.
Kevin Gumienny: It is. I’ll just take … feel free to cut this out, but one of my favorite stories is when you look at the great movies in American cinema, a lot of people tend to look at things like Citizen Kane and Casablanca. That was developed during the Hays Code. When you were very severely restricted in what you could say, how you could portray justice, what kind of intimacy you could show between people on the screen, but because of those constraints existed, working within those constraints, we have some of the best movies ever made in American cinema. Not to say that other movies aren’t great, but it shows it’s an example of how working within constraints can really lead to some creative solutions.
Sanjay Nasta: And every artistic field constraint drives creativity. My view is that accessibility’s an alert objective of training. It’s just an objective that you put in from the beginning and you accommodate it.
Kevin Gumienny: Yeah. I think it’s a matter of moving it on to the board. A lot of people don’t do that yet. You had mentioned to CSUN and to Access U CSUN over in San Diego in February. Great conference. It is a mind-blowing conference. It’s basically three, four days and you start your sessions at eight in the morning and you wrap up around six, 5:30, six o’clock. It’s intense, it’s overwhelming, and you’re brain’s bleeding from your ears by the time you’re done, but there’s just so many ideas, so much good stuff. Access U is very much the same way. It’s not quite as intense, but the people that you’re talking with, the quality of that conference, is really great.
Something that came through both of those conferences is this idea that accessibility is as much a culture change as anything else. We all have our technical standards. We all have our legal reasons why we want to push forward, but really to make accessibility engaging, to make it part of corporate culture, to make accessibility just another thing that you put on that list that you’re checking off. It’s a matter of changing corporate culture.
Sanjay Nasta: I noticed at Access U, the keynote in which Rich Schwarzveggar talked about leading with empathy and bringing in accessibility from that perspective instead of from a litigation, from a perspective of litigation from a must-have. I think that was pretty powerful because all of us have accommodations we need. Without my glasses I couldn’t work. That was very powerful for me.
Kevin Gumienny: I agree. He gave a great presentation, a great keynote. Very moving. I think that emphasis on empathy makes the right connection. One of the dangers of taking the standards-based approach … I love my standards, I do, because I like having that measurement goal of what I need to achieve, but one of the dangers of that is that you have this checkbox mentality. And what you’ll hear is very, very common, is that you can make something technically accessible. You can every one of those checkboxes checked off, and it’d still be functionally unusable by somebody with a disability. So we need to start with a position of empathy. We need to start from a position of empathy, we need to make those connections, and that’s gonna allow us to make truly accessible eLearning.
Sanjay Nasta: Let’s go to the other side. What are some of the challenges you face as the instructional designer, and a little bit of a development role with accessibility.
Kevin Gumienny: That’s a great question. And I think about this all the time, is I think my biggest challenge was getting started. It’s like a mountain. You look at WCAG 2.0 and it’s page after page after page after page of text, and all these rules and all these guidelines and to think that I have to master all of this before I can actually begin to make my training available to people. That’s just incredibly daunting. Not to mention all of the structure that needs to go into place. So how do I know? I gotta create checklists and then I gotta write the checklists, then I gotta track them and all that documentation. I think the way that I cut through that, is just to say you know what’s most important is connecting with the learner. So pick what you can do. And I’ve already talked about this.
I think the way to cut through all of that is to start where you can start. If you can’t do it all, do what you can. Pick the low-hanging fruit. You’ll go to WCAG, if you want to take a look at the standards, you can go to WCAG level A. Yeah, you might want to aim at level AA, but start with level A. Make sure your stuff as Alltext. Make sure that your video has captions. That alone is gonna help you make your stuff more available. And it really cuts that challenge down to size. You learn a little bit as you’re doing that and you take on the next challenge and the next challenge and pretty soon, you got a pretty good handle on how to reach as many learners as you can.
Sanjay Nasta: Where does somebody start? Where does somebody start making digital assets and specifically, eLearning accessible?
Kevin Gumienny: That’s a really good question. I’m thinking back to how I started getting engaged in accessibility. I became involved in it by being part of a work group that was looking at it for an organization. That caused me to start taking a deep dive in asking these questions. I think there’s a lot of checklists that are available online. There’s a lot of posts that point to “Do these nine things to make your course more accessible,” and I think those are a great place to start. The most important thing about accessibility and making your course accessible, as Jeff, I’m stealing form Jeff again, is he says, “An E for effort counts.” Effort counts when you’re making things accessible. You’re never gonna make everything 100% accessible, just because our technologies are changing over time and the standards are changing over time. So you’re always gonna be in a rush. So the real emphasis comes to do what you can. If all you have is the capability to check color contrast, check color contrast.
I think that there’s a couple things that are sort of really low-hanging fruit, that’s a great way to get started. Color contrast, making sure that all your audio and videos are captioned, including alternative text on images. That’s really important, this last one. And it’s one of the key fundamental things about accessibility. Because if you’ve got somebody who can’t see an image, who has a visual disability, then that image doesn’t exist for them. So you need to put on alternative text. And it’s a good way to get started.
Sanjay Nasta: I think there was something hidden in there, is that in the E for effort is, you start by wanting to make things accessible, you start by making an objective of your learning. What’s the status of our rapid eLearning tools in terms of making things accessible? I think that’s a challenge for a lot of folks.
Kevin Gumienny: It is. At Microassist we tend to use a tool Lectora, because we find that of the various tools, it’s not the easiest to learn, I’ll grant you that, but of the various tools, we can get closest to an ideal of accessibility with that because it allows us the finest level of control. Other tools such as Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate also have some accessibility features. Some of them are more advanced in areas than others. It really kinda depends on where the creators of the tools put the ideal of accessibility. I’ve talked with people who have taken the output of a rapid eLearning tool, and that is not in the tool, does not produce accessible learning, and they put stuff around it. So if I can’t add in closed captioning on a video, they’ll put in open captioning, which is where you words are basically burned into the screen. Hey, that counts. That works. If somebody has a hearing disability they can still read it on the screen.
They might include a rapper of some kind to make a transcript available. So you can be kind of inventive. Take your output from the tool that you have and adapt it. I think that’s an important thing, because a lot of times we’re stuck. It’s always great to think “I’m gonna go and buy the latest, greatest accessibility rapid eLearning tool that’s out there. Let me figure out what it is.” But as a matter of fact, a lot of us are stuck with the tools that we have. We might have invested a lot of money. And not just money, but time in learning how to deal with a tool. And if you’re working in a particular environment, heck, you might not have the ability to go out and change your tool because now you’ve got six years of stuff built in one tool and you have to stay with it.
That kinda goes back with, I think something that you mentioned a little bit earlier, which was, I’m gonna put accessibility on my radar. I’m gonna make this stuff accessible and I’m gonna get as far as I can in the tool that I have.
Sanjay Nasta: What your team has done is go to conferences like CSUN and Access U to start learning about that. You just came off Access U last week. I think you took a large portion of your eLearning dev team there. Can you give us a few minutes about some of the more interesting lessons learned?
Kevin Gumienny: I tend to find it very helpful if we take a really deep dives on narrow topics. Someone was a fantastic session on alternative text. And hour and a half on alternative text. But it can really get intense, where you have to … what do you say in alternative text. If you’ve got a graph, how do you alternative text for a graph. If you’ve got a cartoon … think about it. A cartoon is a visual joke. How do you write alternative text for a cartoon? There was some great hints on how to handle that and how to deal with those situations. And I will see that was a standing room only crowd in that session on alternative text. And I know there was some great stuff on Microassist’s own Hiram Kuykendall gave a couple of great sessions on Open Air, and he also had a session on what he calls the accessibility things, where he talks about how to make, in a broader context, things accessible in a digital medium.
Another session that I really liked was Paul Adam, put together … it was an hour and a half on a spreadsheet that he uses to communicate quality assurance information with his clients. And these are the weird things you don’t think about, but if you’re running a check on accessibility and you have to tell somebody, “Okay, this isn’t accessible and it needs to be fixed,” how do you do that? How do you communicate that? And so Paul, brilliant guy, and very, very open. You can go to his website and he’s got all these tools in his presentations right there just for you to use. Those are some things that I found very helpful. As you mentioned a lot of us went to different sessions, and so we try to spread it out a little bit. And one of my team went to a session on plain text, plain language, which is a great way to interconnect with issues who have … on the one hand you might think of issues with people who have cognitive disabilities, but really, how many of us, when we’re reading a form, want to be able to understand what we’re reading? And so plain text is a movement mostly in the government sector that encourages things to be plainly written. And there’s a ton of lesson that you can get from those kinds of sessions.
Sanjay Nasta: Sounds instructive. Sounds like something that a lot more people could do next year.
Kevin Gumienny: Yeah. Absolutely.
Sanjay Nasta: Well Kevin, we’re starting to, as usual, run out of time. Is there anything you’d like to close with?
Kevin Gumienny: What I would say is … we’ve talked a lot about how accessibility is important. It’s not something that’s a special skill, that one or two people needs to have. What’s brilliant about it, is it doesn’t have to be this super technical that only uber geeks can do. There’s a lot of stuff that instructional designers, course developers, quality assurance people, whoever’s involved in a course, UI experts, program managers, can do to help make your courses more accessible.
One thing that we didn’t hit when we were talking about why make stuff accessible, is the temporary disabilities. There was this great session … this was at the Texas Distance Learning Association, she was talking about accessibility. What she said was, “I broke my right hand, my writing hand. I had to interact for several weeks with my phone via Google Voice.” And she said, “You know what, Google Voices does not understand the Texas twang.” And so that gave that personal note. Two weeks later, cast came off, she was able to write. But for those two weeks, just like if you’re a skateboarder and you break and arm or something. We are on our way to be disabled, we have temporary disabilities, we have people who have more severe disabilities. Disabilities are not something that’s just one part of a limited group. I think it’s something that’s very, very broad. And given that, our learners are likely disabled.
Even if people have a disability that they might self-disclose, it can be that you might have employees working for you or colleagues or your learners might have disabilities but you never know it because they chose not to self-disclose. Do we cut them out because they can’t use a mouse or do we just take that initial step? Do we make it part of our culture, that, “Hey, we’re gonna include everybody. We’re gonna include all learners. And we’re gonna design learning to engage everyone.”
Sanjay Nasta: That’s definitely true. At Microassist we have people … I have bad vision. We have people with problems seeing colors, we have people with hearing issues, and you’d never notice because all of have learned to compensate in different ways. Thank you for your time today, Kevin.
Kevin Gumienny: Thanks for the invitation. I really enjoyed being here and being able to take part in this podcast.
Sanjay Nasta: This podcast was brought to you by eLearning Council. For show notes, podcast links, and more information about eLearning Council, please visit our website at www.elearningcouncil.com.
On using plain language, Whitney Quesenbery, “Plain Language: Accessibility for Information,” presented at AccessU 2017