Your Department's Help Is Needed to Improve Web Accessibility


So what does Kentucky have over Ohio, other than the Derby? Despite the fact that the federal mandate about Web accessibility has yet to impact university Web sites, states such as Kentucky have already implemented legislation around this issue. There, the Kentucky Accessible Information Technology Act requires that university Web sites meet Web accessibility requirements. We won’t be left behind. Kent State University has also adopted Web accessibility policy, viewable in the University Policy Register:

What Is Web Accessibility, and Why Is It Important?

Web accessibility means that all visitors to your Web sites, independent of whether they have

Hope Is Just a Click Away 
Find out how Kent State’s Joe Drew, associate professor of political science, has partnered with Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) Medical Center to offer disabled veterans the opportunity for a brighter outlook — through online access to college degrees and, with that, the possibility of a successful career. It’s another example of how Web accessibility changes lives and makes ideas work.

vision impairments or other physical limitations, can access all of the information on the site.

Simply put, Web accessibility increases the volume of people who can access your Web site. Improving Web accessibility at Kent State will advance the university’s diversity efforts and improve customer service by making information accessible to any visitor to your Web site. This is especially important when you consider that more than 1,000 students with disabilities currently attend Kent State and have a need to access university Web sites.

“Beyond these important reasons, Web accessibility will likely become legally required for universities because they receive federal funding,” says Joe Drew, associate professor of political science and coordinator of the Master of Public Administration program, who oversees a Web accessibility lab in Moulton Hall. “Currently, all federal government agencies’ Web sites are required to be Web accessible, based on Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which is related to the Americans With Disabilities Act. The federal government is simultaneously requesting of its vendors and grant awardees that they make their Web sites accessible as well. The issue is essentially one of expanding civil rights to all citizens. I fully expect legislation around the issue of Web accessibility to mirror the path of affirmative action legislation. Affirmative action began as an executive order to federal agencies. In a short time that was expanded by federal law to require organizations seeking or receiving federal funds, from private firms to universities to states and local governments, to incorporate affirmative action policies. Indeed, major universities and several states have already moved toward incorporation of accessibility in anticipation of this impending mandate. By taking these measures now, Kent State can be proactive rather than reactive a decade or so from now.”

Lift Your Department Web Site to a New Level – Easily

Because the university has committed to improving Web accessibility, it has invested in technology to boost those efforts. In short, the technology is a special computer called Lift, which works with related software that allows any Kent State Web site to use it. Lift automatically converts the majority of your Web page (links and all) to a text-only format.

“The benefits of this are enormous for persons with disabilities,” says Drew. These individuals

Webmasters: The Code You Need to Improve Web Accessibility by Linking to Lift

To increase the usability of your Web site for visitors who rely on Lift or screen readers like JAWS, all webmasters should provide a link to Lift to generate a text-only version of departmental Web sites. This code varies based on the type of Web pages that comprise your Web site. You must decide if you want to have the graphic keyhole symbol or the words “Text Only” show. Placement is also at the discretion of the webmaster. In many cases, such links appear at the top of the page.

For departmental sites not using .asp or .cfm

For .asp

For .cfm

rely on special computer software that reads to them, screen readers, or software like Lift to allow them to manipulate text-only Web pages that have been converted.

Lift is used by Web visitors to:

• Convert sites to text-only Web pages;

• Increase font size to accommodate low vision and or the need to move around a page with greater accuracy due to limits with their fine motor skills (consider how this helps individuals with paralysis); and

• Adjust font and set different colors and backgrounds (consider how this helps individuals with macular degeneration).

What Is Your Role?

To advance the Web accessibility effort, enlist the help of your webmaster and content contributors to implement simple, phase one improvements. These small efforts will help dramatically advance Kent State’s Web accessibility efforts.

“This will be a huge benefit for our students with visual impairments, as well as those with physical disabilities and learning disabilities,” says Mollie Miller, adaptive technology specialist, Student Disability Services.

How Much Heavy “Lifting” Is Involved? We Don’t Have a Lot of Time Around Here!

We realize that. The cross-divisional team leading this initiative, Drew, and representatives from Administrative Computing Services, New Media Center and University Communication and Marketing, is busy, too. One of the benefits of this system is that all you need to do is add the link to Lift (the automatic text generator) to improve Web accessibility in an instant. Find the link in the sidebar. Take a look at the following examples:

Example 1:

A Kent State Web site before it is “Lifted.” (http://www.kent.edu/Magazine)

Same Kent State Web site after it has been “Lifted” http://ada.kent.edu/tt/www.kent.edu/Magazine  

Is There Anything Else I Can Do – Without Heavy “Lifting”?

Yes, two things really help. Easy, you-can-start-today fixes, include:

  1. Scan your Web site and future copy and relabel the “Click Here” or “Read More” links. Instead of using those labels, just hyperlink to where the link should go.

Example:
Incorrect: Click here to go to the KSU Library.

Correct: Make the link KSU Library.

  1. Label your Web site pictures. If you do so in the code, when you place your mouse over a picture (an image), text appears describing the image. We call this “tagging” the image or the image’s “alt tags.”

What Resources Are Available?

For a first glance at how your Web site measures up, place http://ada.kent.edu/tt in front of your Web site’s URL in a browser window and compare what you see with your actual site. Is all content translating clearly? Do all links actually work? You might be surprised to find entire sets of navigation missing – oftentimes your primary links become unavailable. Be sure to actually test all links, as links to drop downs, pop ups or new windows are not yet operational in Lift. Images that link to other Web pages are also problematic, but easily repaired.

To test your Web site and to best measure its accessibility after running it through Lift, you should also test its functionality with a screen reader. Contact Lin Danes, Web coordinator, at ldanes@kent.edu to arrange a consultation with a Web team member in University Communications and Marketing.

Visit the University Communications and Marketing Web site at www.kent.edu/ucm to view a recent Web accessibility presentation with various accessibility illustrations. Also watch for upcoming workshops. A spring marketing workshop will focus on how to tag PDFs to improve accessibility.

By Lin Danes


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