May. 26, 2017
For nearly a decade, we’ve hosted the John Slatin Access U conference, devoted to all areas of web accessibility — and we’re happy to do it.
Web accessibility, for those unfamiliar, is the umbrella term for designing and creating websites and web content in ways that ensure people of all cognitive and physical abilities can use the internet effectively.
This year’s Access U took over Trustee Hall from May 17-19 with the theme of Empathy in Leadership. (Fits nicely with our mission at St. Edward’s, don’t you think?) More than 250 people from non-profits, state and local government, education and business joined us on campus to learn from leaders in the web accessibility field — and share their own accessibility know-how.
But you don’t have to be a web developer or designer to learn about and practice accessibility. You just need to care about making the web helpful and usable for everyone.
With that in mind, here are a few of our takeaways from this year’s conference:
There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Approach
(Catching Up With Accessibility: Beginner’s Basics, Shawn Henry)
Making the web accessible means making it usable for people with a number of disabilities, all of which have different needs:
- Auditory disabilities
- Cognitive disabilities
- Neurological disorders
- Speech disabilities
- Low vision
While some things (like the consistency of navigation) are good for all users — even those without noticeable disabilities — you’ll need to provide multiple and diverse paths to information. And remember, as people get older, most will have to deal with some kind of physical or cognitive change, so this kind of design thinking isn’t limited to a small group of people.
Appeal to All Senses
(Writing Great Alt Text, Whitney Quesenbury)
WCAG 2.0, the guidelines for accessible web content, centers on four principles for what content needs to be:
To make content that hits all those marks, you need to have websites and tools that account for all sensory experiences, whether a user has low vision and uses a screen reader, or has deafness or uses dynamic Braille display. One of the key components is writing strong, clear alternative text, including alt-text on images, captions on videos and transcripts for audio recordings.
Universal Design Is the Smart Thing To Do
(Teaching Universal Design and Accessibility in Higher Education, Howard Kramer)
Universal design is the radical idea that the design of both products and environments should be usable by all people, to the greatest degree possible, without the need for adaptation or specialization.
By introducing this concept in higher education, we produce students who can fill shortages in tech companies and other industries looking to hire employees with knowledge of accessibility. And students benefit in other ways:
- Learning tech skills
- Developing empathy
- Promoting advocacy
- Exploring the intersection (and limitations) of public policy and accessibility.
Think About Accessibility Broadly
(Social Media, Accessibility and You, John Foliot and Denis Boudreau)
Social media content is a murky area of WCAG 2.0. Some platforms do better than others on meeting requirements, but when you’re posting content to any social media platform you should keep some basic rules in mind.
- Any information conveyed through an image (like an Instagram post) should have accompanying text (like a caption) that could deliver the same meaning to someone who is blind or has low-vilow vision
- same goes for video content. Having properly captioned videos is imperative for viewers who are deaf or have hearing loss. And you can’t just rely on auto-generated captions. (At least not if you want things to make sense.)
- Even if the platform has issues with accessibility, you control your content and how it displays to users of all abilities. Things like color contrast ratio and clear descriptions are key.