If you are an employer committed to inclusive hiring practices, you already know that hiring people with disabilities is an excellent way to expand and enhance your business. But how do you ensure that an Employment First Policy work for you and the people you hire? At APSE, we are always on the lookout for tools to help make comprehensive employment easier both for employers and for employees. One tool that is especially beneficial for people in both worlds is eLearning.
As the percentage of tech-savvy individuals entering the workforce increases, so should the reliance on eLearning tools. ELearning, as opposed to a traditional classroom setting, makes it possible for individuals to learn from anywhere, anytime, and at their own pace. This is good news for people with disabilities who are preparing to enter the workforce, those who are receiving on-the-job training, support professionals juggling many competing priorities, and for those advocating for disability inclusion.
Let’s explore the different ways that eLearning serves these different populations:
1. eLearning for Career Planning and Discovery
For many people with disabilities, eLearning has opened doors when it comes to education. Online courses level the playing field, making it possible for populations who have difficulties navigating the analog world (such as hearing- or visually- impaired individuals), to get the quality education they need, want, and deserve. But eLearning is also important for people with disabilities who are transitioning from school into careers.
There are many avenues available online when it comes to career planning and discovery. Free online career assessments help individuals figure out their strengths and weaknesses, as well as the types of careers that match their particular skill set.
In addition, there is a wealth of eLearning workshops available on everything from identifying and researching career options to successful interview tips. In the past, career planning meant trooping down to your university’s career planning office or making hundreds of phone calls; today, eLearning streamlines this process.
2. eLearning for Workforce Training
Once on the job, eLearning gives people with disabilities the ability to learn and do job training from an environment that is more comfortable for them. If you are an employer currently using more traditional training methods for employees, consider whether any of your trainings could be moved to the online environment. Not only does eLearning make it easier for employees with disabilities to get the training or continuing education credits necessary to be successful in their careers, it saves employers time and money.
It’s important to keep in mind, though, that employers have the responsibility to make the eLearning platform accessible to all employees. For example, if a training course is not designed to work with a screen reader or does not provide focus indicators, an accommodation at the receiving end (i.e., screen reader or magnifier software) is useless. If an employee has limited mobility and cannot use a mouse and if the course has no provision for keystroke shortcuts, the training is not truly accessible.
This means that extra care needs to go into designing online materials: online text needs to be available in large print, Braille, audio, and computer disk; videos must have closed captioning; and individual elements must promote inclusion of people with physical disabilities.
Besides designing eLearning software that is accessible to people with physical impairments, consider cognitive accessibility as well. Although cognitive and learning disabilities are varied and complex, it is difficult to make specific recommendations. However, cognitive web accessibility can be defined by the following principles: simplicity, consistency, clarity, multi-modality (i.e., providing content in multiple formats), error-tolerance, and attention-focused. If you are an employer seeking help with creating accessible workforce training programs, the Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN) has resources available.
It’s important to remember that digital information is not inherently accessible. But the choices made by those implementing technology will determine whether these technologies are truly inclusive.
3. eLearning for Disability Advocates
Finally, eLearning is a powerful tool for disability advocates. Whether you are an employer looking for innovative ways to make customized employment work for your employees or an individual interested in learning how to be a more effective advocate for people with disabilities, eLearning training programs are available. Online guides are available on topics from how to work with the laws, politicians, and the media to using social media, blogs, and other creative tools.
At APSE, we love eLearning. Our webinars continue to provide a platform for continuing education, certification, and accreditation. They allow us to reach and serve a national group of advocates. Without eLearning, our grassroots advocacy efforts would be sorely limited. In fact, we are working on a new partnership to improve our eLearning offerings for members.
We encourage all employers and service providers to consider the benefits of eLearning as it relates to your specific organization. Of course, if you have suggestions for additional ways to harness the power of the eLearning platform for our cause, please don’t hesitate to pass along your suggestions.