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E-Training 1 - Introduction: Rapid Growth and Need for Accommodations

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As the prevalence of e-recruitment strategies has grown over the last decade, the adoption of e-training for new or existing employees has also flourished. In 2002, Croydon Market Research conducted a survey of over 1,000 U.S. companies for the corporate arm of Open University, a leading supplier of online employee training packages. Of the companies surveyed, nearly 30% already utilized online training in its new hire orientation packages, while another 30% were seriously considering adopting a similar format (trainingpressreleases.com).

Companies are using self-directed online training to reduce training costs and provide more extensive material to newly hire employees, many of whom prefer the ability to learn at their own pace instead of attending orientation meetings or company sponsored classes.

Online classes offer these students a number of advantages:

  • Convenience and flexible hours
  • Reference tools
  • Extensive online documentation
  • Immediate feedback and testing results

Companies are using online training providers to enable a larger pool of job applicants to participate in the orientation process while avoiding costly travel expenses and classroom rental fees. A number of specialized providers now offer customized training packages to client companies (hrmguide.net). Providers such as eLeap allow human resource directors to develop their own coursework which newly hired employees can access online. Other companies are forgoing large classes in favor of live training via online conferencing software.

As economic difficulties continue to strain the budgets of U.S. companies, the costs of in-person training have become increasingly problematic for human resource departments who want to adequately prepare new and existing employees for unfamiliar job tasks. However, companies who are reducing employee training cannot afford to cut programs entirely. A study by Watson Wyatt Worldwide found that companies who focus on employee orientation and training saw significant gains in financial performance and retained employees better than companies with less extensive training programs. The study concluded that the expenses of orientation can actually increase revenue by engaging the employees in the company right from the start.

Regarding training new employees with disabilities, orientation programs are subject to many of the same barriers that crop up during the recruitment process. Many programs make assumptions of the capabilities of students while failing to account for potential physical disabilities. This is especially problematic in online training courses where the student may be hundreds of miles from the nearest company representative who can solve their problem. Companies who provide online training must ensure that any materials they expect students to review are fully accessible to anyone using accessibility technology, and take employees with disabilities into account during the design process.

Companies should decide early in the development of training materials whether or not they will commit to fully accessible e-training. Many of the design decisions common in online environments will affect the entire course for the duration of its use. For example, courses which require students to log in with individualized accounts or provide extensive background information are likely to use form fields for submission. Improperly designed forms will prevent users who are unable to use a mouse or who use voice output screen readers from accessing the material. Something as simple as an inaccessible login screen can render entire training programs inaccessible to a large number of newly hired employees.

Many employers include multimedia elements such as video in their orientation and training programs. Students generally respond strongly to these materials; however, it is imperative that all multimedia elements be screened for accessibility challenges before providing them to students (accesselearning.net). Captioning services are a primary means of enabling employees with hearing disabilities to access the material, while recorded audio streams are important for employees with visual disabilities or blindness. By accounting for these necessities early in the development process, designers can reduce costs by preventing expensive redesigns or customizations at a later date.

Basic web accessibility is the key to e-training success for students with disabilities. The most commonly adopted accessibility options provide significant results for a minimal buy-in:

  • Text alternatives for all images
  • Cascading style sheets for layout rather than frames
  • Alt and long text for tables and multimedia
  • Properly nested heading tags
  • Informative metadata

These accommodations should be included in typical site design, but are sometimes overlooked in the time-sensitive environment of corporate training programs. Ensuring that these programs are accessible from the start can save time and money on costly redesigns while also preventing highly skilled, qualified employees with disabilities from encountering barriers that will reduce their job capacity and cause them to seek new opportunities with competitors.