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Tech Talk: Accessible Technology Made Simple

By now most of us know that our websites and other campus technologies need to be accessible. A common question I hear is, “Is my website ADA or whatever?” The mystery of accessibility seems daunting at times, especially when we are flooded with the acronym soup that accompanies it (ADA, ATI, 508, VPAT, OMG).

In a nutshell, accessibility means providing equally effective access to all users, including users with disabilities.

There are a variety of tools that assist with “reading,” perceiving and using computers. Individuals with print impairments, such as those associated with vision or learning disabilities, commonly use screen readers that “read the screen aloud” to them. People with motor disabilities often use assistive technologies that enable them to access their computers without using a mouse or a keyboard. The importance of textual transcripts for lectures or videos becomes evident when considering computer users who are hearing impaired.

The place to start with accessible technology is to understand the need to integrate accessibility into everyday processes, such as creating Word documents, designing web pages or purchasing software. Building accessibility into a process is much more effective than reaching the end of a project and realizing, “It’s done. Oops, is it accessible?”

The Basics

The following list provides a few basics for designing accessible documents.

  • Images and photos must have text-based descriptions to provide relevant visual information to the visually impaired. For example, a photo of a campus scene may be described as “Students sitting on the lawn on a sunny day.”

  • Hyperlinks should be written as actions that describe the link’s destination. Rather than using “Click Here,” use “Download the Request Form.”

  • Videos and live audio must have text-based captions and/or transcripts. “Type what you hear.” Include narratives for silent portions of videos to provide relevant visual information, i.e., “Little Red Riding Hood walks through the forest gathering flowers.”

As you incorporate accessible design into your daily processes, it will become second nature. The public expectation for accessible technology will eventually be as commonplace as current presumptions that most buildings have ramps and elevators for wheelchair access. We are involved in a fascinating shift of paving the electronic ramps of the future.

Advanced principles for accessible design can be found at http://webaim.org/intro.