June 26, 2005

Suggestions for the WaSP Accessibility and Education Task Forces

In addition to the Education Task Force that I mentioned earlier, the WaSP has set up an Accessibility Task Force. Members of the WaSP are asking for suggestions for the task force here and here. There have been some great suggestions, and a few university people have piped up. In an attempt to not have the voice of higher ed (which I feel has some additional/different concerns to those of the rest of the web world) lost in the shuffle, I thought I’d post my suggestions here, and open up the comments for other higher ed folks to add their insight. If you’re like me, you could use all the help you can get with these issues— the WaSP is asking for input, so let’s give it to them! :) I will post this url back to the other sites, so the WaSP can hear our thoughts.

My top 3 suggestions for the Accessibility Task Force

  1. Work with vendors to make their products more accessible and produce better code. There is much talk of working with CMS vendors about this, which is a great start, but in higher ed we are also dependent on vendors for many other services, such as student information management (Banner, Peoplesoft, etc), courseware (Blackboard, WebCT, etc), fundraising (Blackbaud, etc), and institution-wide calendaring and scheduling, to name a few. The quality of the web output portions of these products in my experience, in terms of both accessibility and web standards, is poor. Please feel free to add to this list of services and vendors— these are the ones I have experience with, and I know there are many more.
  2. Encourage development of affordable server-side accessibility checkers. Higher ed sites are perhaps the largest sites on the web, and they are decentralized. It is difficult for the web team to assess the accessibility of the site as a whole without an automated process to at least alert them to potential problems. Automated checkers can’t assess everything, but they are at least a start. Unfortunately, their price is out of reach for many web teams.
  3. Encourage development of affordable and efficient video captioning systems. For better or worse, online video is being used more and more in education. To meet accessibility requirements, this video needs to have realtime synchronized captioning. We have been stymied many times by how to make this happen with the staff and resources we have available.

My top 3 suggestions for the Education Task Force

This one is a bit tougher. I have no knowledge of or influence over curriculum issues, and one of the main goals of the Education Task Force is to get web standards worked into the web design and development curriculum. Maybe those of you who are also faculty members will have more insight into this.

  1. Help us educate the administrators that web professionals are indeed professionals with a lot of expertise to offer. I think that many administrators don’t understand what it is the web team does, and don’t seek their input on important web-related decisions. Folks are often surprised when I explain that the web world is a huge discipline with many subfields, areas of expertise, and standards. In my experience, administrators don’t realize that when they are choosing tools such as web-based fundraising systems, they could benefit from getting my advise on which of these systems will work best with the university web site. In other words, if the tool is web based, it needs to be evaluated both in terms of how it fulfills the specific business need, and in terms of the quality of its web implementation.
  2. Develop a repository of resources for us to draw from when dealing with non-web professionials who maintain institutional sites. Higher ed web sites are by nature decentralized, and often folks with no web training are tasked with maintaining departmental sites. It would be great to have some good resources to give them to help them out with this— some basic web education materials aimed at the layperson who has no desire to know more than they have to. In my situation, I have little time to train decentralized web maintainers; I need a way to tell them what they need to know in a clear, short, useful way.
  3. A repeat of number 1 above. We really need our vendors to make their products output standards-based code if we want to move university web sites toward full standards-compliance. And of course: education, education, education. There are still a lot of folks within the university setting (not the web teams, but the others involved in putting up web sites) that don’t know about the benefits of using web standards or what it takes to really make a site accessible. What are your thoughts?

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