The Welcoming Website Part 2: Assessing Accessibility
by Kate Browne, Technology Trainer at Illinois Wesleyan University
on December 30, 2015
In the first post of my series on web accessibility, I described the basic principles of Universal Design and explained how access issues affect all users. Taking stock of your current website is the next step in making your digital campus environment as welcoming as possible. Regular accessibility reviews can help your institution stay ahead of legal ramifications of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), improve overall user experience, and have a positive impact on user perception of your institution. Once your institution has committed to regular accessibility reviews, the next step is reviewing your web pages for potential issues. Here are my top tips for developing an accessibility review plan:
Change Begins with You
Keeping in mind that everyone benefits from Universal Design, you can begin assessing pages informally based on your own experience with your institution’s web pages. Odds are that if you find something difficult to navigate, then others will too. Are there too many clicks to get to information? Do you have to squint to read the text on a page? Do you always forget to stop the football team’s video before it autoplays? These are all potential situations that might indicate a place where accessibility needs to be addressed.
The content managers at your institution can help during the initial stages of the review by offering feedback and testing their own program or department pages. Each user offers a unique perspective, and you will need buy-in from your content managers to ensure consistent, thorough reviews. Soliciting feedback from content managers reinforces their personal stake in the project and supports the idea that Universal Design affects everyone. You may have on-campus users with specific physical or mental impairments who may be willing to assist in the review, but be cautious about giving these users the token of authority on impairment. Online resources like color contrast tools or screen reading simulators can help you determine how easy it is to access existing pages. Even taking the time to navigate a page using the keyboard or your computer’s built-in voice command software can give you this type of perspective without relying on an impaired user for feedback.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
There’s no need to reinvent the proverbial wheel when it comes to accessibility. Organizations such as The Accessibility Project (a11y) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) offer resources that can help you better understand why certain page elements pose accessibility challenges and explain how solutions work. Once you have a handle on some of the major accessibility issues, OmniUpdate’s OU Campus™ content management system provides an Accessibility Check tool that can help you identify and correct potential issues.
In my next post, I’ll take a closer look at how the Accessibility Check tool can help you and your content managers make initial changes, as well as develop an ongoing practice of accessibility review.
About the Blogger
Kate Browne is a Technology Trainer at Illinois Wesleyan University. She comes to
IT by way of teaching and research in digital humanities as an English Studies PhD
candidate—a fact she uses to remind her OU Campus content managers that technology
expertise isn’t just for computer science majors anymore.