Addressing challenges faced by individuals with vision and hearing impairments when accessing online learning

Physiopedia Plus (Plus) aspires to create a platform that is accessible and inclusive for everyone, and at the centre of this is ensuring that Plus online course content works for all users. 

Plus courses are developed with accessibility in mind. Courses are delivered through a range of media, and all video content is available at different playback speeds, with closed captioning and accompanied by both an audio file and a transcript. This was all designed to enable users with vision and hearing impairments, but we were keen to find out if this actually works for individuals learning with Plus. To do so, we recently connected with a physical therapist who is both hearing and vision-impaired and asked for his perspective on accessing a Plus course and navigating the content, to help us to better understand his user experience – and we learnt a lot! 

We learnt that when accessing the course video content he struggled reading the closed captioning on the screen, and instead found that he was able to hear very well using Bluetooth hearing aids, along with being able to lip read the course instructors.

“The video is very clear, with good sound”  

Receiving this feedback reinforced the Plus standard video format – a ‘talking head’ on screen. In practice, this means that course content is centred around a large video of the instructor speaking to the camera. This facilitates lipreading and enables participants to follow the video if closed captioning is difficult to read. Plus also asks course instructors to adhere to standard requirements for picture quality during video recording – this helps us to ensure a clear, good-quality picture to make the visibility of the instructor clear for lip-reading. All of the Plus media team are also trained in audio editing, making sure that the sound is of high quality on the video and audio files for ease of listening. 

This user feedback prompted the team to review the closed captioning options used in the videos to see if this might be improved. As a result the settings were updated to allow participants to fully customise the closed captioning they see on the screen. 

By using the “Customize” setting it is now simple to adjust the size, font, and text of closed captions, as well as to change the background colour to optimise visual clarity and improve a user’s learning experience.

This flexibility in tailoring Plus learning materials is a step towards addressing the challenges faced by individuals with vision and hearing impairments in accessing online education. As part of our mission to provide accessible and inclusive tools for rehabilitation professionals all over the world we have also recently started translating courses and have launched a Plus App. If you have ideas for improving the accessibility of our websites and digital products then we want to hear from you!

– Thanks to Plus Education Director Tarina Van Der Stockt for input in developing this article

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