I apologize to those of you who tried to watch the UWeb and experienced sound difficulties. The session had some good content that I’m sure we all wanted to here, so I will provide a recap here. (Anyone who was there — if I missed anything, got something wrong, or if you just want to add your take on it, please add a comment to this post.)
Our presenters were Brittany Olsen and Kyle Boatsman from IT Risk Management. They work with web accessibility and brought us an update on tools available to university developers to get our web sites made accessible.
IT Accessibility Web Site
One of these tools is the IT Accessibility Web Site. The site has been completely rewritten and was just launched a few weeks ago. It is designed not only to have all of the information you need about accessibility, but also to be user friendly for those who might not have a whole lot of experience in the field.
One of the features of the site is content that is broken up by audience. There is separate content written specifically for developers, for designers, and for content contributors. While the content does cover the legal aspects of accessibility, the more useful parts are the tools and tips that are provided. These save local web developers lots of time from having to track down and learn all of that information on our own. It also provides links to outside resources where you can learn about accessibility in further detail.
Accessibility Classes and Consultations
Kyle and Brittany don’t just monitor web sites and hand out reports on our sites. They try to actively engage the university community and help us improve our pages. One of the ways they do this is through partnering with Employee Development to teach accessibility classes. Kyle has both an introductory and an advanced class that are (at least currently) free for any university employee. You can sign up at http://training.tamu.edu. I can personally vouch for the usefulness and quality of these classes. I would highly recommend developers attend the advanced class, even if you have been doing accessibility for years. The introduction class is also great for designers, managers, and content contributors who need at least an understanding of the topic but not necessarily the details on how to implement it. If you have several people in your department that you would like to run through the course give them a call and they can set up a special section just for your group.
As well as the formal classroom training, Brittany and Kyle are also available for individual consultations. They can provide advice on your site, answer detailed questions, or whatever you need. Be aware that give their schedule this won’t be something they can do immediately when you call them, but they try to get to your issues as fast as they can (probably a couple of weeks timeframe, depending on time of year and what they have going on at the time.)
WorldspaceSynch and FireEyes
Many of you who have been here for a number of years may remember that the accessibility team had a tool that ran a scan of all Key Public Entry Point (KPEP) websites and had you log in to test your site and report problems being fixed. You might also remember how there were many false positives and other problems that made the software difficult to use. We have now upgraded to the new version of WorldspaceSynch, and many of these problems have been solved. The new scanner is starting to look at sites across campus, and KPEP owners will be notified soon to start setting up accounts and using the new system.
WordspaceSynch is the software that IT Risk Management is using as an enterprise level scanner. It gives them the ability to to a lot of the compliance legalisms that other tools don’t offer. This is not to say that you must use it as your only or main resource. Kyle mentioned the SiteImprove product that the university offers to departments and mentioned that its user interface is still nicer in many ways.
Once the program gets underway, the WorldSpaceSynch scan will be run weekly, so web owners should get regular reports on the accessibility health of their sites. It is not something that you can use as a real time development tool though. You can’t request a scan at any time, you have to wait for the weekly report. Another tool, like SiteImporove or FireEyes is probably better for development testing.
The scanner will be set to run against the WCAG 2 guidelines at Level AA compliance. This is the accessibility threshold that is becoming accepted as “the standard” within the web development industry and by the US Department of Justice and Department of Education. Settlements from lawsuits against universities and corporate entities usually include requiring adherence to WCAG 2 Level AA, so it makes sense for us to set the bar there.
A question was raised about Section 508 and how we should address it. Section 508 was originally created as a requirement for agencies doing purchasing with federal dollars. WCAG 2 is a newer standard, created by people with an understanding of the web and accessibility needs. In many ways WCAG 2 Level AA includes what’s in Section 508, extends it, and makes it easier to understand. A refresh of Section 508 has bee proposed, and it would be heavily influenced by WCAG 2.
A followup question was asked about what Level A, AA, and AAA means. In a nutshell, WCAG 2 guidelines are broken down by three levels of conformance. Level A is the most basic requirement and AAA are the most strict. The WorldspaceSynch is not set up to monitor for Level AAA (but for you overachievers who want to go for it you can contact them and they can configure it for you.) For a more complete explanation of the compliance levels, you can start on the IT Accessibility web site and find many outside site dedicated to explaining it.
FireEyes is a companion software to WoldspaceSynch. Both are made by the same company. Instead of an enterprise scanner that can report on the while university, FireEyes is a browser plugin for Firefox that lets you scan one page at a time. In order to use FireEyes you enter your university NetID and connect to the server that powers WorldspaceSynch. This means, then, that you are getting the same results from FireEyes as you will get in the universal scan that Brittany and Kyle send you.
FireEyes integrates with the FireBug plugin that many of you probably already use. This means that you can use the in-browser code editing to test changes and make sure they are accessible rather than having to upload them to the server and re-load the page to test. This makes FireEyes a very good tool for real-time development.
A demo of FireEyes brought up a question about one of the WCAG guidelines…the text/background color contrast ratio. Kyle mentioned that this is probably the most common problem they are currently seeing…content text and background color that are not sufficiently different in color and shade. If you need to check colors, the IT Accessibility site should link you over to several tools that will let you determine if two colors are sufficiently different. Be particularly careful with shades of gray. Gray text on a gray background is common and commonly presents a problem.
Thank you all for your interest in web accessibility and your support for the UWeb team. Brittany and Kyle are both dedicated to improving the Texas A&M web, so please get in touch with them and take advantage of the resources that they make available.
We hope to do more UWeb meetings and create a closer-knit web community on campus. If you have any topics that you would like to hear (or even better talk about yourself!) please give us a call.
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