Terence W. Cavanaugh, Ph.D.
Abstract: Websites are becoming increasingly
important for colleges as support for faculty, administrators, counselors,
students, parents, and the community. A
primary factor when restructuring, updating, or creating a college site should
be making sure that the site will be fully accessible. Restructuring a college’s website to ensure
accessibility can become a complex process and it requires careful planning and
knowledge of accessibility issues. The
An education college website
should have as its mission to recruit, support, and inform current and future
students and faculty about the college and the profession, while at the same
time modeling educational design concepts and ethical educational behaviors. An
analysis of a local
Currently there are two major “players” in the
structuring of accessibility guidelines for web-based materials in the
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act was put into place to help eliminate the barriers in accessing information technology, to make all such information available for people with disabilities. While this law currently only applies to Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, it is to a school’s advantage to make information about that school as accessible as possible. Additionally while not currently required, it is not beyond expectations that state governments will also make these guidelines a requirement for state web sites as well as public schools, colleges, and universities. A web site will be in compliance with the 508 standards if it meets paragraphs (a) through (p) of Section 1194.22 (see Appendix A). The World Wide Web Consortium has developed its own fourteen guidelines (see Appendix B) concerning web accessibility. Within each of these guidelines are a number of checkpoints, which have priority ratings from One to Three. Each checkpoint has a priority level assigned by the W3C Working Group based on the checkpoint's impact on accessibility. According to the W3C at a minimum, for accessibility, a web site must be designed to meet all Priority One elements or some groups of people will find the site impossible to access. Satisfying all Priority Two elements should be done to remove the most significant barriers to accessing a web site. The Priority Three elements are an optional set that may be addressed to ensure that there is improved access to the web documents. By following the W3C web accessibility guidelines, sites can have an accessibility rating of “A,” “AA,” or “AAA.” This rating system is based on the level of conformance that the site achieves. A conformance level of “A” indicates that all Priority One elements are satisfied, “AA” shows that the site is satisfying all Priority One and Two elements, and “AAA,” being the highest level, with all Priority One, Two, and Three checkpoints in compliance. As an example, to achieve the minimum conformance level of “A,” a site must meet all of the following priority one guidelines:
The next step in the college’s web site revision
process was to find out specific ways that users felt the site was not
fulfilling its mission. The initial part
of this investigation included a series of interviews with faculty members and
students to find out what they found useful about the current site, problems
they had, how they felt the site could be improved, and where the college’s web
site was not following accessibility guidelines. From the initial analysis
concerning accessability of the site it was determined that improvement was
needed in alternative text tags, use of framesets, and identification
concerning the languages and html formats on the individual web pages. Each phase of the redesign
was reviewed and approved by the college’s technology committee using mock up
web pages, navigational concept maps, survey and interview results, and
accessibility needs. As professional
educational institutions all colleges of education should achieve accessibility
by meeting W3C and
Research was undertaken in finding tools to evaluate the site to improve accessibility. There are several tools available, many of which have no cost, and as we had a limited budget we limited the choice of tools to the no-cost options. Some of the free tools that were examined included Bobby from CAST, HTML & CSS Validator from W3C, A-Prompt from the University of Toronto, and the 508 Accessibility Suite for Dreamweaver. An excellent listing of over thirty different tools to assist in evaluating and repairing sites for accessibility is the Evaluation, Repair, and Transformation Tools for Web Content Accessibility from the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative at http://www.w3.org/WAI/ER/existingtools.html.
While each of the tools reviewed had their own advantages, A-Prompt was chosen as the evaluation tool, because of ease of use and because of its assistance in identification of accessiblity issues, as well as in guiding and assisting in their correction. A-Prompt (for Accessibility Prompt) is a software tool designed by University of Toronto's Adaptive Technology Resource Centre (ATRC) and the TRACE Center at the University of Wisconsin to assist web authors in improving the accessibiltiy and usability of HTML documents by evaluating Web pages for accessibility barriers and then providing developers with simple methods to make the needed changes to ensure accessiblity. A-Prompt makes its evaluation and repair based on accessibility guidelines created by the Web Access Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium or the US Rehabilitaion Act 508 guidelines. Users of A-Prompt can set which guideline they would prefer to follow and to what level.
The actual design change for accessibility of the college site was done at the end of the restructure process. It was done at the end because of the number of persons who were working on and evaluating the site concerning structure and content. Since the focus, at that time, was on content, the authors did not need special training to make sure that their changes were following compliance standards. To assist in the development of new pages, web page templates were created that were already compliant for accessibility. Once all the college’s pages had been checked for content and design, and all new pages created the entire site was evaluated using the A-Prompt software. In discussions between the site designers and the administration, the W3C guidelines were used and the site was restructured to achieve the “AAA” rating.
Once all pages had been filtered through the A-Prompt tool and the site was compliant a series of tests were undertaken to ensure that accessibility had been achieved. These tests included using a variety of standard monitors and browsers, then again checking the site using specialized accessibility tools such as screen readers, screen enlargers, and accessing the site through a universal access station. The final phase of the evaluation involved requesting students with disabilities to access and evaluate the site.
College sites should provide information to all prospective users. This information can include the programs that are available and the number of hours and courses required for programs, images or photographs of students and facilities, and any other relative information. But a college must also make sure that its information is accessible by all. While a committee of the college may direct the maintenance and structure of the college’s website, that committee needs to have someone who is aware of online accessibility issues, to ensure that the college’s site either achieves or maintains accessibility compliance. Also since at many colleges numerous persons can post or change web pages, the college site should periodically be reassessed for accessibility compliance and training made available for all college web authors.
Ridpath, C (2002) A-Prompt last accessed online at http://aprompt.snow.utoronto.ca/
Section 508 (2002) last accessed online at http://www.section508.gov/ .
US Government (2000) Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards. Last accessed online at http://www.access-board.gov/sec508/508standards.htm .
W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (2002) Evaluation, Repair, and Transformation Tools for Web Content Accessibility last accessed online at http://www.w3c.org/WAI/ER/existingtools.html .
Web Able Inc. (2002) Section 508 Accessibility Requirements for Web Sites http://www.webable.com/508_guidelines.html
World Wide Web Consortium (1999) Checklist of Checkpoints for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0. Last accessed online at http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10/full-checklist.html .
508 Standards: Section 1194.22 Web-based intranet and internet information and applications.
(a) A text equivalent for every non-text element shall be provided (e.g., via "alt", "longdesc", or in element content).
(b) Equivalent alternatives for any multimedia presentation shall be synchronized with the presentation.
(c) Web pages shall be designed so that all information conveyed with color is also available without color, for example from context or markup.
(d) Documents shall be organized so they are readable without requiring an associated style sheet.
(e) Redundant text links shall be provided for each active region of a server-side image map.
(f) Client-side image maps shall be provided instead of server-side image maps except where the regions cannot be defined with an available geometric shape.
(g) Row and column headers shall be identified for data tables.
(h) Markup shall be used to associate data cells and header cells for data tables that have two or more logical levels of row or column headers.
(i) Frames shall be titled with text that facilitates frame identification and navigation.
(j) Pages shall be designed to avoid causing the screen to flicker with a frequency greater than 2 Hz and lower than 55 Hz.
(k) A text-only page, with equivalent information or functionality, shall be provided to make a web site comply with the provisions of this part, when compliance cannot be accomplished in any other way. The content of the text-only page shall be updated whenever the primary page changes.
(l) When pages utilize scripting languages to display content, or to create interface elements, the information provided by the script shall be identified with functional text that can be read by assistive technology.
(m) When a web page requires that an applet, plug-in or other application be present on the client system to interpret page content, the page must provide a link to a plug-in or applet that complies with §1194.21(a) through (l).
(n) When electronic forms are designed to be completed on-line, the form shall allow people using assistive technology to access the information, field elements, and functionality required for completion and submission of the form, including all directions and cues.
(o) A method shall be provided that permits users to skip repetitive navigation links.
(p) When a timed response is required, the user shall be alerted and given sufficient time to indicate more time is required.
1. Provide equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content. Provide content that, when presented to the user, conveys essentially the same function or purpose as auditory or visual content.
2. Don't rely on color alone. Ensure that text and graphics are understandable when viewed without color.
3. Use markup and style sheets and do so properly. Mark up documents with the proper structural elements. Control presentation with style sheets rather than with presentation elements and attributes.
4. Clarify natural language usage. Use markup that facilitates pronunciation or interpretation of abbreviated or foreign text.
5. Create tables that transform gracefully. Ensure that tables have necessary markup to be transformed by accessible browsers and other user agents.
6. Ensure that pages featuring new technologies transform gracefully. Ensure that pages are accessible even when newer technologies are not supported or are turned off.
7. Ensure user control of time-sensitive content changes. Ensure that moving, blinking, scrolling, or auto-updating objects or pages may be paused or stopped.
8. Ensure direct accessibility of embedded user interfaces. Ensure that the user interface follows principles of accessible design: device-independent access to functionality, keyboard operability, self-voicing, etc.
9. Design for device-independence. Use features that enable activation of page elements via a variety of input devices.
10. Use interim solutions. Use interim accessibility solutions so that assistive technologies and older browsers will operate correctly.
11. Use W3C technologies and guidelines. Use W3C technologies (according to specification) and follow accessibility guidelines. Where it is not possible to use a W3C technology, or doing so results in material that does not transform gracefully, provide an alternative version of the content that is accessible.
12. Provide context and orientation information. Provide context and orientation information to help users understand complex pages or elements.
13. Provide clear navigation mechanisms. Provide clear and consistent navigation mechanisms -- orientation information, navigation bars, a site map, etc. -- to increase the likelihood that a person will find what they are looking for at a site.
14. Ensure that documents are clear and simple. Ensure that documents are clear and simple so they may be more easily understood.