Disabled people must be included in programme development

Angel Perez

Supporting people with disabilities to improve their digital skills is a key part of our innovation to inclusion (i2i) programme in Kenya and Bangladesh. Angel Perez explains how our partnership with Learning Age Solutions (LAS) is creating unique learning experiences to enhance the employability of the people we support.

Emmaculate working as a collection agent at 4G Capital after learning different job skills through the i2i programme.

Leonard Cheshire is leading a consortium on the i2i project. The project is funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). And we’re working to support disabled people to access, and retain, paid employment in the private sector through digital solutions.

This includes things like skills assessment and development. As well as support with recruitment and in the workplace. The programme aims to directly benefit and upskill 7,000 people with disabilities who are of working age. And in turn, it helps promote the importance and benefits of inclusion in workplaces across Kenya and Bangladesh. Because unfortunately, the stigma around disability means there’s still a big disability employment gap in both countries.

Working with LAS

Our partnership with LAS has been key to ensuring the people we support have training suited to their needs. LAS designed and developed 23 modules as part of the programme. The modules cover soft skills and digital skills for learners with a range of disabilities. Including visual or hearing impairments, mental health, autism, ADHD and dyslexia. The modules aimed to enhance the skills of the learners and help them grow in confidence.

Why we use universal design

LAS used a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach to developing the modules. We talk a lot about Universal Design across our programmes. And it really is so important. It means programmes can be designed with all users in mind. That way, everyone has equal access to development.

The assets and routes through the modules were designed to account for the variety of learners needs. It means learners can choose a learning route through the modules that suit them best. In this way, whilst their journeys may be different, the learning outcomes are the same. Some may complete their journey quickly. And others may require some additional support along the way. But the modules were designed to make learners feel as comfortable as possible throughout their journey.

But e-learning modules really can’t be fit for purpose unless we include people with disabilities in the process. We consistently asked learners for feedback. And we included them in the development of content. LAS were adaptable and flexible in their work approach to make changes where necessary. For example, the feedback process found that the subtitles on videos were not always suitable for people with hearing impairments. Not everyone was able to read subtitles. However, many people had been taught sign language or could lip read. So as a result, sign language interpreters were added to the videos, as well as subtitles. And this set an excellent UDL approach for future videos too.

Our framework

The modules really took inclusion and accessibility into account. As a result, they provide a great framework for the learning development sector:

  • Text is clear, concise and suitable for screen readers. It’s available in dual-language, with audio available for those with visual impairments.
  • Visual media used in the modules are representative of the learner. They feature learners and staff from Bangladesh and Kenya, making them more authentic.
  • Animation was avoided as it is not completely accessible to all learners.
  • Videos have sign language and captions, as well as a separate transcript.
  • Assets can be downloaded too so that participants did not have to use data watching videos on their phones. This was important as data can be expensive, and this would be a barrier for some learners.
  • Aria labels were used to give learners additional instructions on what was on the screen to support their journey.

Importance of co-production

That’s not to say the development of these modules wasn’t without its challenges! Given the distance – and Covid-19 restrictions – all of our focus groups were carried out remotely with the help of interpreters. And, as we all know too well, network issues can sometimes mean these processes are longer. But it was well worth it! The focus group participants were really keen to share their opinions.

And one of the key points that came out of discussions was that users didn’t want the modules to be full of Western content. They needed to appeal to learners and be truly representative of their own cultures. They wanted to hear from people they could relate to. So with that in mind, LAS asked participants if they could help produce some of the content themselves. Equipped with training and guidelines on ‘selfie videos, ’ participants could contribute to the modules. Learners filmed videos on how they found the tools and techniques in the modules. And this resulted in some great, authentic content.

Co-production really is so essential in creating a product that truly has the user in mind. Our work with LAS allowed us to develop modules that are learner-centric, accessible and engaging. We’re looking forward to seeing how other learners get on with them.

It was also great to see our collaboration with LAS shortlisted for a Learning Technologies Award this year. And we were really proud to have won a bronze award for Excellence in the Design of Learning Content - Public & Non-profit Sector. This is really a testament to our positive collaboration together!