I was lucky to participate in the NEH-funded workshop on Accessible Futures this weekend. It was a wonderful two day workshop, in which we discussed all sorts of ways to make the web more accessible not only to those with disabilities, but to everyone, really. It’s like the old story with curb cuts: they were originally installed to help people in wheelchairs use sidewalks, but everyone, from those pushing strollers or wheeling a grocery cart to kids on bikes, likes them. The same is true with accessibility and the web. As George H. Williams points out in his article on “Disability, Universal Design, and The Digital Humanities,” in Debates in the Digital Humanities, the same principles that make the web accessible to people with disabilities make the web more accessible in mobile devices (206). And, we learned at the workshop, efforts like transcribing a video on your site improve not only accessibility for the hard of hearing or Deaf, but also searching within your site, and how your site is indexed on search engines. Plus, I’ll bet some hearing people would like the transcriptions too.
There is a 40 plus page GoogleDoc of all the notes from the weekend here. But I thought I’d share a few things that are easy to do to improve accessibility. Here’s what I’m working on this week:
1) Plugins! There are several great plugins available for accessibility. So far I’ve installed the WordPress Accessibility Plugin, and the Braille SC Plugin on my personal WordPress site, and Cory Bonhom’s soon to be released AccessKeys Plugin and the Zoom.it Plugin on my Omeka site.
2) Choose your WordPress theme carefully! In design, the simpler, the better and more accessible. Apparently, the Twenty-Thirteen theme in WordPress scores well on those counts–I’m thinking of changing.
3) Don’t have your links open in a new window. I’m guilty of this one, as it’s my own browsing preference. But I learned this weekend that it can confuse low vision and blind users who may not realize they are in a new window. I just deleted a lot of target=”blank” commands on my Omeka site, and stopped using them here.
4) When you make a Word Document, use the “Title”, “Header One” and “Header Two” styling commands rather than, you know, increasing the font of your title to 36pts and making it bold and purple. I’m guilty of this one too! But if you make a well-formatted Word Document, it will translate beautifully into Braille and HTML. A web browser doesn’t know that your 36pt purple bold font is a title, but it can read “Title”. I started using the styling commands in Word making a handout for my class yesterday, and will update everything for next semester.
5) Alt text should be brief. Also guilty here, as I thought more description of an image was better. You can put a longer description in the “description” associated with an image in WordPress and Omeka, and maybe even link to the place you got the image.