According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 1.3 billion people in the world experience a significant disability. Living with a disability is more common  than you think! 

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states  “disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”. 

The inclusion of persons with disabilities is  a key objective and a core area of the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy. It provides a foundation for sustainable and transformative change towards  inclusion throughout all pillars of the organization’s work, and highlights the need to strengthen system-wide accessibility and mainstream disability in all plans and efforts.   

In light of this, UNSSC has taken various actions to improve the digital accessibility of its online learning content, and to create an inclusive environment. Digital accessibility refers to designing and developing online learning materials in a way that makes them perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust; ensuring they are usable by all learners. It is crucial to prioritize accessibility in online education to ensure every learner, irrespective of their personal capabilities, has equal access to learning opportunities. 

Being mindful of that: how can we, as facilitators/trainers, ensure that all learners benefit from online learning offerings? 

Our data training programmes feature a multidisciplinary curriculum that draws on insights from the social sciences, statistics, and management  while focusing mainly on  – data visualization and storytelling; the fundamentals of descriptive  and predictive analytics. They have been designed to better equip UN staff to formulate problem statements for data-informed solutions, use data visualization and storytelling design principles to communicate key findings, and build basic predictive models.  

Data training material introduces learners to a variety of charts, formulas, tables, algorithms, and data processes. For instance, in our data analysis lessons, we present statistical models and techniques for analysis once the data has been collected and cleaned.  In our data visualization modules, we explore how to select the right visualization for a data research question, and share  best practices and lessons learned . In the predictive analytics sections, we switch to the features needed to explore statistical algorithms and machine learning techniques to identify the likelihood of future outcomes and  applications in the UN context.  

Considering the complexity of the content and the amount of visuals displayed, ensuring digital accessibility  is  crucial , as it enables all learners to understand the metrics and clarify their findings with appropriate explanations. In the past months, we have been working  to improve the accessibility aspect of our learning products  to offer an inclusive learning experience for our participants regardless of their abilities. 

Below are some key aspects that we found particularly important to address to ensure an inclusive instructional design.  

  1. Audio, transcripts, visual descriptions and closed captions for videos  

We provide lots of videos and interactive presentations in the modules because motion pictures reinforce and make learning easier. . We designed our videos in a way that fosters engagement by highlighting key points or asking questions to encourage learners to pause and reflect. 

However, it is essential to think about those with hearing impairment, blindness, and non-native speakers. For every video and presentation, we provided a voice-over, closed captions, and time-synchronized text. We also inserted transcripts to offer a written version of the audio content and descriptions to explain all visual elements displayed in the video. 

Creating visual descriptions that are  both illustrative and concise is  a challenge. We recognized the importance of providing accurate descriptions, but it can be  difficult to understand which details are  crucial to convey. We have invested considerable time and effort to develop informative and clear descriptions that work effectively for all learners.  

  1. Colour and Contrast   

Colour is a powerful design tool because over time they can  easily be associated with brands, themes, or emotions. However, relying on colour only is not enough if you  have a visually impared or  colour-blind audience. It should not be the only indicator for interactive elements. It is important to provide the right contrast between the content and the background so that the text can be easily read.  

In this regard, we ensured that our visual elements respected these parameters by  using a colour blindness simulator. We provided guidance in our lessons on how to identify when a data visualization does not use accessible colours.  

  1. Alternative text to images  

Alt text is a brief description added to images and other visual content on web pages to ensure accessibility for the visually impaired  and improve search engine optimization. It is intended for screen readers and is visible when images fail to load due to network issues. We added alt text to all images so that screen readers can read the descriptions for learners.  

Describing complex images, especially those that serve as learning exercises, can be challenging. We chose to provide enough information for the users who cannot see the image, while also ensuring the information is concise and does not reveal the answer or complete the task on their behalf. To address this challenge, our team regularly discussed complex images and tried to empathize with impaired people to guarantee accurate and effective alt-text descriptions.  

  1. Consistency in design, writing style, fonts, and URL 

Coherence in design  by using a consistent layout and formatting for all materials is a must for us.  It helps learners navigate the platform easily, reduces confusion, and improves the learning experience.  

We chose accessible fonts and provided descriptive text for all URLs. We included keyboard instructions in lesson introductions, enabling users who may have difficulty using a mouse or touchpad to navigate the platform using only their keyboard. 

Despite the challenges faced, we were thrilled to start this path! Our team is  committed to creating an inclusive and accessible learning environment. We will continuously strive to improve our course content to ensure that it is accessible to all our learners.

For more information about our data training programmes please click here

Accessibility not only allows full and effective participation and inclusion in society, but also ensures a better learning experience for all. Universal design and compliance with accessibility standards provides an  opportunity to create a learning environment where all users have the possibility to understand, navigate, and interact more efficiently.