E-Learning – helping to provide equality in training

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Jon Buttriss, Operations and Services Director at Netg looks at how e-learning has opened up opportunities for people previously denied them.

One of e-Learning’s main benefits is the ability to train anywhere, at any time. This hasn’t just opened up new opportunities for staff out on the road and home-workers, but has also made learning more accessible to many of the 12 percent of the UK’s workforce who are disabled. Providing accessible training to those with mobility, visual and hearing impairments can be a challenge and, unless especially adapted, it can be difficult to meet the disabled population’s needs with classroom-based training.

e-Learning therefore presents a viable alternative and assistive technology has been integrated into some e-Learning solutions to ensure complete accessibility and ease-of-use. But it appears that despite these developments in the training industry, many UK companies are still unaware of how to address the issue of accessibility when implementing learning programmes.

A recent industry roundtable panel, hosted by NETg, concluded that fear of the perceived high cost of setting up accessible training programmes was one of the key reasons for a lack of progress in ensuring equal development opportunities for the UK’s 8.7 million disabled professionals. Some organisations believe that there are huge cost and time implications involved in introducing accessible learning solutions – but this doesn’t have to be the case. Unfortunately this fear means that, despite an organisation’s good intentions, accessibility gets pushed back down to the bottom of the agenda. And so the wrong learning solutions are in place for the wrong people – which not only ends in disabled workers being at a disadvantage, but obstructs all workers.

But equality of accessibility can be achieved with the right knowledge and technology. e-Learning can play a key, and inexpensive role, in providing accessible learning. It can be carried out from virtually anywhere so travelling no longer becomes a problem, and good quality e-Learning contains plenty of text, audio and video which makes learning easier for those with visual or hearing disabilities.

Taking accessibility to another level is assistive technology, which can now be found as standard in some providers’ e-Learning courses and is simply ‘switched on’ when in use by a disabled learner at no extra cost. This means specialised third-party devices or technologies, which can set back learning progress and be expensive, do not have to be deployed.

This year has been designated by the European Disability Forum (EDF) as the European Year of People with Disabilities. The EDF is striving to implement a new EU anti-discrimination legislation act, which if it comes into place, will affect all organisations across the UK and the rest of Europe.

The UK government is also actively encouraging businesses to recruit disabled people, and by 2004 the Disability Discrimination Act will mean that all UK companies have to provide equal employment opportunities to disabled workers. This means providing accessible training is going to become an increasingly important legal issue for many training and HR departments. Fortunately assistive technology in e-Learning can help achieve equality in training and will hopefully become standard across the learning industry as new anti-discrimination laws are brought into place.

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