We are proud to make accessibility a priority in our work in Engage and work cross-departmentally to produce an inclusive platform. Most campus student engagement professionals are familiar with mobility-based accessibility such as wheelchair access, but in this article we will share with you more information about what web accessibility really means and how we accomplish it here at Campus Labs.
What is web-accessibility and why is it important?
Web accessibility is the idea that anyone should be able to navigate, understand, and interact with a web site or web application.
You might hear others, such as your Procurement, Information Technology, Student Disability Resource Center, or Accessibility Office, on campus refer to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”). These ever-evolving guidelines define web accessibility as “websites, tools, and technologies [that] are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them,” noting that web accessibility also benefits people without disabilities who are facing situational or temporary limitations. We believe that accessibility best practices and standards are the foundations of great software.
Disabilities in this context might include visual impairments (low vision or color-blindness for example), cognitive differences (such as dyslexia) or physical/mobility restrictions. Individuals with these disabilities sometimes use assistive technologies like screen readers, screen magnifiers, or keyboards without a mouse to make browsing the web possible – this means that in order to be accessible, websites should also be compatible with these technologies.
In the United States, publicly funded colleges are held to certain accessibility standards in their web content as outlined by the United States Federal Acquisition Regulation Sect. 508. Web content creators use WCAG version 2.0 or 2.1 to analyze and determine their compliance with Sect. 508 and additional guidelines developed by the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group made possible through the World Wide Web Consortium Web Accessibility Initiative. Websites can either not meet these guidelines, meet their minimum parameters (grade of A), exceed their minimum parameters (grade of AA), or exceptionally exceed the minimum parameters (grade of AAA – very rare). Our design standard/benchmark for Engage is WCAG 2.1 at the AA level.
How does Campus Labs consider the accessibility of Engage?
Accessibility is important for us right from the beginning of developing new content. While discussing this topic with our User Experience (UX) Designer, Elisa Forysinski, she stressed her passion for inclusive design, an approach of considering the diverse ways any user might approach an application.
"I believe accessing the web is a basic human right. The web is not a barrier to people with disabilities. It’s the solution!” Elisa explained. “One of the best ways to achieve the idea of inclusive design is putting people – all people – at the center of the design process, and that is the core idea I emphasize when designing the experience of Engage."
When our team first begins exploring a “story” (an idea or project to develop), assessing the accessibility of the idea is built right into our workflow:
"Whenever we evaluate a new feature, tool, collaboration, or extension to bring to our members we ask ourselves and our collaborators how we will ensure that our solution will work for all possible users. This responsibility is a critical step when designing an application that is used by millions of students each year."
- Ryan O’Connell, Senior Product Manager
In addition to prioritizing any accessibility concerns that members bring to our attention, we also run scans on our own technology regularly to assess its design against our benchmark. This is a combination of automated and manual testing to assess compatibility with screen readers and other assistive technologies, documented within Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPATs) and included in Accessibility Compliance Reports (ACRs).
Below are just a few recent examples that our team has deployed to create an accessible (and inclusive) hub for Student Engagement in Engage:
- Screen Reader Accessibility
- Our pages include “skip links” invisible without a screen-reader – these links progress beyond basic accessibility, improving the user-friendliness of a page so that a user doesn’t need to listen to the full panel of navigation options before reaching other content on a page.
- We moved away from a visual “calendar” format and instead use chronologically organized tiles of events that are easier for screen readers to interpret.
- We provided more keyboard triggered navigation options on pages that use drag and drop features.
- General Accessibility
- We regularly check our content for suitable color contrast on all pages
- We write links descriptively to more easily intuit the location a hyperlink is pointing to for the user.
- Our pages are built with a clear HTML hierarchy (also known as order of content) that can easily be navigated on a variety of assistive technologies.
- We check that all content can be easily tabbed between for users who do not utilize a mouse.
Because Engage contains so much campus-generated content, you are our partner in crafting an accessible experience for all users. You can help to improve the inclusivity of your site with simple tactics such as:
- Make sure alternative text on your images is rich and descriptive – for example, imagine you are posting an image to the gallery of the Baking Club. Instead of providing alt text of “Baking Club,” text already on the page the user is examining, you might write “A group of 10 smiling students wearing baking aprons are each holding a cupcake towards the camera” instead.
- Avoid using images that have text on them for event, gallery, or cover photos as text on an image is not read by screen readers. Focus instead on making sure all necessary information is listed in event or organization descriptions and/or additional fields.
- Separate long paragraphs with line breaks so that they are more easily read by a screen reader.
We believe that web accessibility is a social justice issue; we are committed to continuous improvement and promising practices that create great experiences for all students.
We cannot wait to talk to you more about accessibility as you migrate to Engage. Be sure to talk to your consultant about any questions or concerns you have – we always welcome feedback and are committed to growing as a leader of accessibility in our field.
Curious for more? Read more about the Campus Labs commitment to accessibility here.