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5 ideas for better Web Accessibility

By Brian Egan on July 14, 2009 6:11 PM | Permalink

Note: Please see the Drupal Primer for information about Drupal.

As we ramp up for our transition to Drupal, I keep thinking of areas of our website that really need some love. One area which has come up time and again over the past year is my concern for the accessibility of our website. The transition to Drupal will give us an opportunity to build a robust, sustainable accessibility solution. These are five short suggestions I have for improving the accessibility of our site.

  1. Rewrite code - Certainly not the most glamorous solution (if there are glamorous accessibility solutions). However, getting the opportunity to fully rewrite the code for the website will go a long way toward making it accessible. This will allow us to tailor our style sheets for a variety of formats, such as low-vision, mobile, screen readers, print, addressing the needs of each format.
  2. Form an accessibility committee - I don't want to suffer committee death, so maybe we could reformulate the accessibility working group. I'm not sure about the structure, but I do know that it would be helpful to have a focused eye on the accessibility of our web site, much like we focus on usability. This type of committee could help create tools for evaluation of our website, define the standards we want to maintain, and help us perform my next idea:
  3. Run live accessibility tests - One very helpful tool would be to run accessibility tests just like we run usability tests. This would allow us to get real, human feedback, and allow us to learn more about how disabled users browse our website. This type of feedback could be wildly helpful, but would certainly require a bit of coordination and perhaps some funds for setting up a proper testing workstation, as well as incentives for participating in a study. Hence, my suggestion for a committee.
  4. Run automated accessibility tests - While no data will be as useful as full-blown live accessibility tests, there are a number of tools we can use to evaluate our website for accessibility before we get to that step. These tools can be a real help identifying a number of common errors that crop up for disabled users, such as providing vivid descriptions of images we use on the site.
  5. Build accessibility into our publishing workflow - Rewriting the site and doing a variety of tests can help us fix our problems, but how do we maintain a sustainably accessible site? Build accessibility into our workflow, of course! What I envision is that once a content provider has placed a new/updated piece of content into the workflow, we would have a program run an automated accessibility test of the content, as well as adding the piece of content to the "Live accessibility review queue" (kind of catchy). That way, when the web editors get the content, they have a quick report on problems that might have cropped up during the creation of the content, and would have a comprehensive list of sites to test since the previous round. This should make it easier for our web editors to keep a handle on the accessibility problems throughout the site, and should make live tests go more smoothly.

These are just a few ideas after a bad night of sleep. This really is one of those subtle, yet crucial areas we need to address. As a public institution, we have an obligation to provide equal access to our materials for all users. I'm not sure we're fully living up to that, and hope to correct a number of those issues with our upcoming Drupal transition.

Comments

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
Kudos to you Brian. These are suggestions that I believe are very timely and very important. Thank you for presenting them so succinctly. I suspect that the DRC on campus will be fully supportive of our efforts and will help us find usability testers when the time comes. Does the campus website group/webmaster use any particular products or follow any specific protocol in this regard?
Submitted by began on
Thanks, Wendy! I think we've done a decent job of updating a lot of the pages with the latest template transition, but I think it would be great to do more. I hope the task force will provide a bit of momentum to turn these ideas into realities!

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