From March 6 through March 9, the 2017 Code4Lib Annual Conference was held on the UCLA campus. Code4Lib is an online community of librarians and archivists who code and programmers who work in libraries, archives and museums. I attended the pre-conference workshop Web Accessibility: Becoming a Stronger Advocate on March 6th. The class was taught by Kate Deibel, web applications specialist at University of Washington Libraries and Jenn Dandle, Web Manager, UC San Diego Library.
As part of Code4Lib’s ongoing commitment to reducing barriers that prevent participation for underrepresented groups, the workshop provided a foundation of knowledge and skills to begin actively advocating for conformance to accessibility standards. Attendees learned key topics such as disability types, common assistive technologies, standards and laws, simple evaluation topics and how to talk to vendors and developers. The session touched on the disability types: mobility, sensory and cognitive. In my daily work I deal primarily with making web pages accessible or remediating PowerPoint presentations and Word documents for those who have visual and hearing disabilities. It was eye-opening to learn that the cognitive aspects are often the least discussed of all disabilities in web accessibility work. Unnecessary animations, complex user interfaces and busy sites are inaccessible to those with cognitive disabilities; such as autism, attention deficit disorders, Down Syndrome and others. Assistive technology devices are used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of an individual with a disability. Most common are screen readers, screen magnifiers, assisted listening devices, dictation, switches and text transformation devices. Jenn Dandle showed a video of a brief tour of screen reader technology. Also shown was a fascinating video of Christopher Hills, a young video editor with cerebral palsy.
From the web developers standpoint, Kate Deibel demonstrated several key approaches on how to evaluate a website for accessibility from looking at the page source code to using a browser’s toolkit. However, simple tests such as keyboard accessibility or the “no mouse” challenge can be performed. By using the tab key instead of using a mouse to navigate around a page, the test can reveal the order and structure of a website and also web page elements that may not be accessible. The presenters advocate that in any ongoing conversation with a vendor or a developer on a new web technology to always have web accessibility in mind. Library staff is a good place to start because it is often their responsibility to facilitate accessibility of information to patrons regardless of their ability.
The presenters also talked about changes to Section 508 compliance. On January 18, 2017, the United States Access Board published a final rule that includes updated requirements for information and communication technology covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Communication Act. Since Section 508 has not been updated since 2000, the new rules catch up with 17 years of changes in technology. The new regulations are both specific and general for hardware and software, websites, and multimedia such as video, phone systems, and copiers. Compliance with the new standards are not required until January 18, 2018. For more information, visit the Access Board website.
While I am not new to Section 508, I learned quite a bit from this 3-hour session. It’s important to always consider accessibility throughout the web development life cycle. Another key takeaway from this workshop was learning about A11y, a shortened version of “accessibility:” the “a” (first letter) and “y” (last letter) plus the eleven letters in between. In social media, such as Twitter, #a11y is often used by many people in the accessibility community. A search for this tag finds useful and relevant content. An off-shoot of a11y is liba11y, which is a web community acting as a central point for collecting and sharing accessibility and disability knowledge in library spaces. A website and e-mail group are forthcoming with additional information.