Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Sarah Kennedy, and the latest post in our series about accessibility issues in library publishing.
Hello again, readers. I’m Sarah Kennedy, Librarian for Agriculture, Natural Resources, Design, and Extension at West Virginia University’s Evansdale Library, writing another guest blog post on the topic of accessibility in libraries. This is a follow-up to my first blog post (Accessibility: A Role for Libraries) in which I discussed some of my thoughts after I attended a wonderful summer seminar on Access/ibility in Digital Publishing at WVU.
Accessible Future workshop
To further my education in these matters, I recently attended a 2-day workshop organized by the Building an Accessible Future for the Humanities Project. This workshop, called “Accessible Future,” (link to agenda) is one of five 2-day workshops during which participants learn about technologies, design standards, and accessibility issues associated with the use of digital environments. This was the last in the five part series, hosted at the University of California Los Angeles.
I thought that the workshop was absolutely fabulous. If the series continues in the future, I would highly recommend that anyone who has even a passing interest in accessibility applies to attend. I will say that, although the workshop had a humanities leaning, I found that the general principles were very broad-based and applicable to any library setting. So, if you have an interest in accessibility in libraries generally, this is a great opportunity to expand your knowledge base and also meet some of the preeminent scholars and activists within this area of study.
After I returned from the workshop, I presented summaries of the workshop sessions as well as some of my own key takeaways (link to Google slides) to my colleagues in a 1.5 hour brown bag lunch session. In the interest of brevity, I will here extract some of the highlights that I think will be most useful/applicable.
A “Modest Workflow” for accessibility testing
For the following list, I would like to credit Dr. Jeremy Boggs, Design Architect at the University of Virginia Library’s Scholars’ Lab. In session #6, which focused on integrating accessibility testing into the workflows of projects and workplaces, Jeremy provided his truly awesome “Modest Workflow” for things that he does to test accessibility on a web page. His Modest Workflow, in no particular order, is copied below:
- Validate the HTML and CSS. Are there validation errors?
- Look at the page in a variety of browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, Safari
- Disable CSS. Is content still displayed in a readable and ordered way? Do actionable links or icons or content remain, or disappear?
- Disable images, audio, and video. Is the content still available, understandable and usable? Do any important controls or information disappear?
- Unplug the mouse or use the keyboard. Is it possible to use the keyboard to navigate the page? Is it obvious where they keyboard focus current is?
- Test the web page through WebAIM.
- Test the web page through an Accessibility audit in Google Chrome.
- Test the web page through pa11y.
- View source and read the page’s code.
- Listen to the page in a screen reader.
- Ask people to use the page. Does the content and its presentation make sense to them? Does it work for them?
Not familiar with some of the tools mentioned above? No worries – many of us at the workshop weren’t either! That’s why Jeremy also provided an “Accessibility Toolkit” with links to his favorite tools. Check them out:
- WebAIM – Web accessibility evaluation tool
- pa11y – another Web accessibility evaluation tool
- Accessibility audit in Google Chrome
- For a tried and true screen reading program, try JAWS
- Another screen reader option is Google ChromeVox, a screen reader for Chrome
- There are also a variety of Web developer tools in the browser, which allow you to inspect the markup and styles for a page, among a host of other development features.
Bringing accessibility home
I think that the other session with really valuable takeaways was session #11, in which all of the attendees brainstormed their ideas for how they might return to their home institutions to advocate for accessibility. Here is the list of ideas, which I arranged thematically. I encourage all readers to take these ideas back to their respective institutions and to host either formal or informal conversations about what steps – great or small – you might take to improve accessibility where you are! I would encourage you to think about these ideas from a multimodal standpoint, to include the written, aural, visual, gestural, spatial, and tactile modes of interacting with our surroundings.
- Incorporate accessibility testing into all course design.
- Host in-class discussions addressing accessibility concerns. (For the librarians and information science folks reading this post, we may think especially about encouraging these conversations in library and information science graduate programs.)
- Consider inserting an accessibility statement in your teaching philosophy and/or syllabi.
- Explore the development of accessibility badges, certificate programs, or continuing education courses.
- Use your student evaluation forms to encourage your students to reflect on your class and how accessible they found it to be.
Facilities and Public Services
- Conduct an accessibility audit of your facilities and public services.
- If you spot an accessibility problem no campus, report it to the appropriate authority. (Here at WVU, we would submit a web form to our Facilities department, notifying them of any issues that could limit an individual’s access to a building or dorm.)
Organizational Culture and Institutional Support
- Form an Accessibility Committee at your library (or department) to discuss accessibility concerns and propose improvements.
- Encourage library administration and hiring committees to address accessibility as part of future job descriptions, especially for instructors/instructional designers and web developers.
- Create incentives within the structures of the university to reward those who address accessibility concerns (for example, in merit reviews).
- Create incentives at the institutional level, as in professional development opportunities (e.g. attendance at workshops like Accessible Future!)
- Connect with the relevant campus office, local community groups, organizations, and student groups to address and work to resolve campus accessibility concerns.
- Organize presentations to the stakeholders in your community, showing them the steps you have taken to address accessibility at your institution and providing ideas and tips that they may implement at their own departments.
- Partner with your ASL (American Sign Language) program to determine whether you can add captions to multimedia material.
- Partner with your Office of Disability Services to hire students who can then be trained to provide accessibility audits and enhancements. Design a program that is a win-win arrangement, providing a vital service to campus and also providing students with valuable experience that they may list on their resumes.