Canada Association of Tourism Employees

Understanding The POUR Rules Of Accessibility

What guidelines should you follow when developing accessible e-learning content?

If you’ve ever wondered what guidelines to follow when developing accessible eLearning content, the 4 principles of accessibility are an excellent place to start. There are 4 overarching principles that frame your content throughout the writing, development, and testing phases of your course. They are perceptible, operable, understandable and robust, POUR for short.

But before we dive into the principles themselves, let’s get some context on how these 4 principles came about.

How are the POUR principles categorized in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) – created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) – provide “a single common standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations and governments internationally.”

A number of guidelines are set out under the POUR principles of accessibility. The WCAG also categorizes three levels of conformity according to the needs of different people and situations – A, AA and AAA. There are verifiable success criteria for each of these three levels.

Understand the POUR principles Öf accessibility

Now we come to the 4 principles and how the WCAG briefly describes each of them. WCAG stipulates that eLearning content must be perceptible, usable, understandable and robust (POUR).

1. Perceptible

In order to be perceptible, the subject matter must be presented to at least one of the senses. This includes images, the use of color, and the structuring of content. Some learners find it difficult to view, read, or hear content. In these cases, alternative text descriptions should be provided so that all learners can use the training seamlessly. For people with hearing impairments, auditory content should be subtitled.

Some of the recommended approaches and best practices are:

  • Include non-text information; for example radio buttons or check boxes must have their respective labels;
  • If an image is used as a link, an alternative text description must be provided for this purpose;
  • Videos must be accompanied by voiceovers and accurately describe the content (avoid autoplay – the learner should be in control);
  • All headings and lists must be coded; for example,


    for headings and ul>,

      for lists; and,
    1. Certain backgrounds can also cause discomfort (e.g. for dyslexic people), so consider using lighter tones.

2. Operational

Learners need to find it easy to navigate each eLearning course, click buttons and submit answers to quiz questions. You should be able to navigate through the course without having to rely on a mouse or trackpad.

Some of the recommended approaches and best practices are:

  • Ensure consistent navigation and the navigation buttons should be large enough for learners to click the button easily.
  • Provide indicators of progress, but avoid tight completion times that put pressure on learners.

3. Understandable

Avoid technical jargon. The content should be understandable and words that are likely to be unfamiliar to the learner should be explained.

Some of the recommended approaches and best practices are:

  • Avoid formatting text that uses capital letters or italics. Also, don’t use text effects like shadows or glow that make reading even more difficult for learners.
  • For text images, the text must be native to HTML. The content should be available when learners want to change the text size (zoom) – it should be clear and legible;
  • Use instructions like “select” instead of “click” and avoid instructions that the learner only has to interact with based on color or location;
  • Avoid abbreviations or acronyms. Separate the content into paragraphs by a maximum of 4-5 lines and keep the most important points at the beginning of the paragraph; and,
  • Do not use generic expressions like “click here” but explain in more detail what you want to achieve.

4. Robust

The assistive technology used by the learners must be an effective complement to the course. The learner should rely on all buttons and links and be able to use them successfully and without interference.

Some of the recommended approaches and best practices are:

  • Test the course with the JAWS reader or other assistive technology; and,
  • Consider adding PDF documents to help learners struggling with navigation or interactions, but only when needed.

Always keep these important POUR principles in mind when developing accessible eLearning content. Although you may already have met some of the criteria as part of your standard eLearning development, these brief explanations of the 4 principles are an excellent starting point to examine your content or gain more perspective.

Farewell Thoughts

Don’t stop at the basics; instead, improve your phases of creating accessible eLearning content. Go deeper into these Success Criteria and Compliance Levels. Try to find out if your current courses are missing any accessibility features and identify the next steps you will take to ensure that your eLearning is accessible to all of your learners.

I hope this article has given you the necessary insight into POUR principles and helps you design or improve your existing accessible courses. In the meantime, if you have specific questions, please contact me or leave a comment below.

EI design

EI Design is a leading provider of learning and performance support solutions that thrive on transforming learning and keeping it relevant, effective and continuous.

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