Tending a wild garden:

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5 Νοε 2013 (πριν από 4 χρόνια και 3 μέρες)

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Todd Vandenbark

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Tending a wild garden:

Challenges and developments in library web design for patrons with
disabilities.

By R. Todd Vandenbark

Introduction


According to the Saskatchewan Public Library’s web site, the role of a librarian is to

search for and find informa
tion, collect and organize information, and implement systems and
vehicles that make information easy to access from long or short
-
range locations”
("What is a
librarian?," 2008)
. And librarians seek to provide this information to anyone who needs it,
regardless ability level or any other criteria. According to U.S. Census Bureau fig
ures, in 2002
there were 51.2 million non
-
institutionalized people living in this country with some level of
disability (over 18% of the population), and 32.5 million of these had a severe disability
(Steinmetz, 2002)
. Disabilities manifest themselves in a dizzying array of characteristics and
symptom, including physical, mental, and sensory or other functional impairments, from the very
mild to severe. If a library’s purpose is to make i
ts collection of information accessible to
everyone, especially in this technology
-
driven age, how do we accomplish this? While the
answer to this question can be approached in many directions, this paper will focus on web or
hypermedia design as it relate
s to individuals with disabilities from a library information
technology (IT) perspective. I will first attempt sketch out the regulations, standards and
guidelines that libraries currently operate within. Second, I will focus on what libraries currently
a
re doing, or should be doing, with regards to providing accessible technology to patrons.

Current Regulations, Standards and Guidelines


The legal framework within which libraries and library professionals operate when
providing services to persons with di
sabilities (PWD) consists of several laws and regulations,
along with technology
-
specific standards and guidelines. First, in 1997, Congress passed the
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Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which mandated that children with
disabilities have
access to a free and appropriate public education. Previously, only one in five
children with disabilities were educated in the public schools
("A 25 Year History of the IDEA,"
2000)
. It has been interpreted most recently to mean that students should be transported to, and
educated in regular classrooms in their local schools with peers. IDEA also requires that schools
provide support s
ervices to make this education successful, including physical, occupational and
speech therapy.


Second, on July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, providing the
first comprehensive legislation supporting equal treatment for PWD. Thi
s law prohibits
discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, public services, public
accommodations, and in telecommunications. One of the focal aspects of this law from a library
web development perspective is Title II, which mandates t
hat all state governments, local
governments, and public agencies provide access for PWD to all of their activities, services and
programs. School, public and academic libraries are under the purview of Title II, and many have
made much progress in minimiz
ing their physical and architectural barriers to PWD. All of these
agencies “[m]ust furnish auxiliary aids and services when necessary to ensure effective
communication”
("Title II Highlights," 2002)
. Although this act was signed into law prior to the
prevalence of the Internet for communication, the intent of the law was to require that PWD have
the tools and means available to communicate
as equal members of American society. Libraries
must provide appropriate technologies to allow persons with a variety of disabilities to access
electronic resources such as the Internet in a way that is most effective for them, not cheapest
and easiest for

the institution.

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Third, Section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act was amended in 1998, and had its rules
updated in 2000; these changes provided the first standards for “accessible information
technology recognized by the federal government”
(Irwin, 2008)
. Many state and local
governments have passed laws adopting the standards of Section 508 for government agencies
and related services. The Access Board is an independent federal agency charged with assuring
compliance with a variety of laws regarding services to PWD. As cited i
n a lecture, the Access
Board defines information and communication technology (ICT) to include:

"… information technology and any equipment or interconnected system or subsystem of
equipment, that is used in the creation, conversion, or duplication of dat
a or information.
The term electronic and information technology includes, but is not limited to,
telecommunications products (such as telephones), information kiosks and transaction
machines, World Wide Web sites, multimedia, and office equipment such as
copiers and
fax machines”

(ibid).


As with most laws and regulations, the wording can be complicated and confusing. Below is the
list of the 16 subparagraphs of Section 508’s guidelines for “
Web
-
based intranet and internet
information and applications

rela
tive to web development” (
§ 1194.22),

and an explanation of
each.

(a) A text equivalent for every non
-
text element shall be provided.


Assistive technology cannot yet describe what pictures and other images look like; they
need to have meaningful text
-
base
d information associated with each picture to read. If an image
directs you to do something, the associated text must explain the purpose and meaning of the
image. This way, someone who cannot see the screen can understand and navigate the page
successfull
y. This is generally accomplished by utilizing the “alt” and “longdesc” attributes for
images. However, these aids can also clutter up a page when not used properly. The text in an
“alt” attribute should generally not exceed 60
-
70 characters, including spa
ces. Longer content
should be put into a separate web page, and linked to using the “longdesc” attribute. When a
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page contains audio or video files, a text alternative must be provided. For audio files such as
interviews, lectures and podcasts, a link to a

transcript of the audio file must be immediately
available. For video clips such as YouTube videos, captioning must accompany the clip.

(b) Equivalent alternatives for any multimedia presentation shall be synchronized with the
presentation.


In practice t
his means that captions for video must be real
-
time, and synchronized with
the actions in the video, and not solely contained in a separate transcript.

(c) Web pages shall be designed so that all information conveyed with color is also available
without co
lor, for example from context or markup.


This means that while color can be used on a web page, it cannot be the sole source of
information.

(d) Documents shall be organized so they are readable without requiring an associated style
sheet.


The introducti
on of cascading style sheets (CSS) can improve accessibility because they
allow the separation of presentation from content. However, not all browsers fully support CSS,
so web pages need to be designed so any browser can read them accurately. The content
of web
pages should be organized so that it can be read and understood with CSS formatting turned off.

(e) Redundant text links shall be provided for each active region of a server
-
side image map.

(f) Client
-
side image maps shall be provided instead of ser
ver
-
side image maps except where the
regions cannot be defined with an available geometric shape.


An image map can be thought of as a geometrically
-
defined and arranged group of links
to other content on a site. A map showing the 50 states in the U.S. cre
ated so browsers can
retrieve information by clicking on a given state is an example of an image map. A server
-
side
image map will appear to a screen reader only as a set of coordinates, whereas client
-
side maps
can include information about where the link

leads through “alt” text. The best practice is to use
client
-
side image maps only, and make sure the “alt” text is descriptive and meaningful.

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(g) Row and column headers shall be identified for data tables.

(h) Markup shall be used to associate data cells

and header cells for data tables that have two or
more logical levels of row or column headers.


While use of tables on web pages is not prohibited, they must be coded correctly. Each
table should utilize the “table summary” attribute to provide a meaning
ful description of the
content and arrangement of the table. Table headers should be coded suing the <th> tag, and its
“scope” attribute should specify whether the header applies to a row or a column. In addition, if
the table’s content is complex, it may
be necessary to provide an alternative presentation of the
information. Using tables for page layout is discouraged; it is better to rely on CSS, taking into
consideration directions in subparagraph “
(d)
.”

(i) Frames shall be titled with text that facilita
tes frame identification and navigation.


Frames are a deprecated feature of HTML, and their use should be avoided in favor of
CSS layout.

(j) Pages shall be designed to avoid causing the screen to flicker with a frequency greater than 2
Hz and lower than

55 Hz.


This refers to blinking or flashing elements on a web page. Use of these elements should
be avoided until browsers provide the user with the ability to control flickering.

(k) A text
-
only page, with equivalent information or functionality, shall
be provided to make a
web site comply with the provisions of this part, when compliance cannot be accomplished
any other way. The content of the text
-
only page shall be updated whenever the primary page
changes.


This requirement serves as a stopgap measur
e for sites that require reworking for
accessibility, but need to have their information up in the meantime. It is considered by some to
be the web’s version of separate
-
but
-
equal services for non
-
white persons in the U.S. prior to the
passage of civil rig
hts legislation, and should be avoided.

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(l) When pages utilize scripting languages to display content, or to create interface elements, the
information provided by the script shall be identified with functional text that can be read by
assistive technolog
y.


Scripting languages such as JavaScript allow for more interactive content on a page while
reducing the number of times the computer screen needs to be refreshed. Unfortunately, if
functional text is not available to assistive technology such as a scree
n reader, the screen reader
will attempt to read the script’s code, which comes across as a meaningless jumble of characters.
Using redundant text links will help avoid this result.

(m) When a web page requires that an applet, plug
-
in, or other application

be present on the
client system to interpret page content, the page must provide a link to a plug
-
in or applet
that complies with §1194.212(a) through (i).


When a web page utilizes a plug
-
in or applet, such as Quicktime or RealAudio, an
accessible link t
o that plug
-
in must be included on the page. In short, make sure a plug
-
in or
applet is accessible
before

requiring visitors to your web page to use it.

(n) When electronic forms are designed to be completed on
-
line, the form shall allow peope
using assist
ive technology to access information, field elements, and functionality required
for completion and submission of the form, including all directions and cues.


Each element of a form needs to be labeled properly, using the <label> tag, and if
inaccessible
scripts are used in the completion of the form, an alternative method of completing
the form must be made immediately available.

(o) A method shall be provided that permits users to skip repetitive navigation links.


It is common practice to put a web site
’s logo or similar graphics at the top of each page,
and to make this graphic a link to the site’s “home” page. Many sites also use a line of graphic
images just beneath this logo on every page to serve as a navigation bar. It is boring to have to
listen t
hrough this same list of links on every page just to get to the page’s content. A “skip to
content” link as the first option at the top of each page is simple solution to this problem.

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(p) When a timed response is required, the user shall be alerted and g
iven sufficient time to
indicate more time is required.


Some sites will log a user off if they have not typed or otherwise interacted with the page
after a certain time period. Users must be notified that this is going to happen, and given
sufficient time

to respond and indicate that more time is needed.

Standards
-
setting groups and their work


From a library information and communication technology standpoint, one organization’s
work that seeks to move web and hypermedia technology beyond basic Section 5
08 compliance
is the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The
mission of the WAI is to “develop



guidelines which are widely regarded as the international standard for Web accessibility,



support materials to help under
stand and implement Web accessibility,



resources, through international collaboration”
("WAI Mission and Organization," 2008)
.


The W3C published its first Web Content Accessibility Guidelines in May of 1999, and it offers
guidelines for
all web developers for making online content accessible to PWD. They also claim
that by following these guidelines it will also make such content more available to every user
regardless of the way they access it. The WAI provides ten “quick tips” for impro
ving
accessibility in website design
(Henry & Popolizio, 2008)
:


1.

Images & animations
: Use the alt attribute to describe the function of each visual.

2.

Image maps
. Use the client
-
side map and text for hotspots.

3.

Multimedia
. Provide captioning and transcripts of audio, and descriptions
of video.

4.

Hypertext links
. Use text that makes sense when read out of context. For example, avoid
"click here."

5.

Page organization
. Use headings, lists, and consistent structure. Use CSS for layout and
style where possible.

6.

Graphs & charts
. Summarize or use

the longdesc attribute.

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7.

Scripts, applets, & plug
-
ins
. Provide alternative content in case active features are
inaccessible or unsupported.

8.

Frames
. Use the noframes element and meaningful titles.

9.

Tables
. Make line
-
by
-
line reading sensible. Summarize.

10.

Check

your work
. Validate. Use tools, checklist, and guidelines at
http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG


Many libraries and other organizations have sought to follow the WCAG 1.0 guidelines since
they were published. Recently, the W3C updated their standards to WCAG 2.0,
and the WAI
offers on its web site an overview of these guidelines, along with a “customizable quick
reference” designed to facilitate successful compliance. The overall principles behind 2.0 can be
summarized by the acronym P.O.U.R.: web content should be

perceivable, operable,
understandable, and robust.

P
erceivable



Provide text alternatives for non
-
text content.



Provide captions and alternatives for multimedia.



Make information adaptable and available to assistive technologies.



Use sufficient contrast to

make things easy to see and hear.


O
perable



Make all functionality keyboard accessible.



Give users enough time to read and use content.



Do not use content known to cause seizures.



Help users navigate and find content.


U
nderstandable



Make text readable an
d understandable.



Make content appear and operate in predictable ways.



Help users avoid and correct mistakes.


R
obust



Maximize compatibility with current and future technologies
(Caldwell, Cooper,
Reid, & Vanderheiden, 2008)
.


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Taken at face value, these guidelines are a positive approach to creating accessible web
-
based
materials. Yet

they are also broad enough to allow for wide interpretation, and the strong
possibility of falling short of Section 508 standards. Reading the details in WCAG 2.0 does not
give any additional assistance to library web developers on how to create a Section

508
compliant web site. Clark
(Clark, 2006)

points out that the three WCAG 2.0 documents are long,
confusing, and sometimes internally contradictory. The core document, Web Content
Accessibility Guidelines 2.0
, tha
t is supposed to serve as a standard, is 72 pages (20,800 words)
long when printed. The second document,
Understanding WCAG 2.0
, which is supposed to
explain WCAG 2.0, is 165 pages (51,000) words long. The “general” techniques document,
Techniques for WCAG

2.0
, is 221 pages (88,000 words) long (ibid). The goal of a library web
master is to provide an interface (web site, OPAC, database, etc.) that both cutting
-
edge and
accessible, and will encourage patrons of all ability levels to use it. The W3C’s overlon
g
guidelines do little to assist him/her in achieving this goal.

Lack of Accessibility on e
-
government sites


As public and academic libraries are funded in part by government revenues, it is only
natural to look to the quality of e
-
government services as
an example of how to serve PWD. A
number of studies have been done to determine the accessibility of e
-
government web sites,
enumerating the percentages of sites that are accessible or inaccessible. But most do not describe
the level of accessibility of th
ese sites, and they rely predominantly on computer software for
determining whether or not a site is accessible. And a positive score from accessibility evaluation
software such as WebXACT or CynthiaSays® tends to create a false impression that a given sit
e
is highly accessible
(Jaeger, 2006)
. In Jaeger’s evaluation of e
-
government websites, he notes
that “a multi
-
method approach to evaluation is optimal,” and utilized four means of collecting
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data: policy analysis, expert testing, user testing, and questionnaires sent to the va
rious agencies’
webmasters. First, Jaeger’s team conducted comprehensive analysis of Section 508 guidelines to
determine if following them would produce web sites accessible to most or all PWD. This
proved true. Second, they had experts rate government age
ncy sites as to whether or not different
aspects of accessibility were lacking, partially present, or present, and scored them on a 0
-
2
scale. Results indicated “there were common accessibility concerns across most of the sites
tested. Most sites had issue
s or inconsistencies when working with some forms of assistive
technologies.” Every site in this study has accessibility issues, and even the Section 508 web site
only achieved an 85% compliance score! Results from user testing involving persons with
disab
ilities generally agreed with expert testing, but this method was better at “revealing the
extent of the issues identified and the ways in which issues manifest” (ibid). Jaeger concluded
that:


1.

Compliance with Section 508 requirements varies widely between

agency web sites.

2.

The level of importance accorded to web site accessibility varies between agencies.

3.

Agencies oriented toward issues of disability are more likely to have accessible Web
sites.

4.

Agencies lack a standardized approach to Section 508.

5.

Some e
-
government web sites focus on certain aspects of accessibility.

6.

The channels of communication between e
-
government web sites and users needs
improvement, and does not even exist in some agencies.

7.

Agencies’ perceptions about the accessibility of their sites

are not entirely accurate.

8.

Compliance with Section 508 could be increased with funding and education for Web
developers.

9.

Commonly accessible e
-
government web sites are still an unfulfilled goal.


Libraries and any other institution that serves the general

public and falls under the purview of
Section 508 should design web sites and other e
-
resources with accessibility in mind from the
beginning, not as an afterthought. Retrofitted sites are less likely to be compliant than those built
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with compliance in mi
nd. Libraries should also have a designated “accessibility expert” in their
development staff, and s/he should involve PWD in the design and testing of web sites. The use
of free automated testing tools should be part of a larger testing process, not the o
nly test
conducted. Testing should also be repeated (iterative) as new features and content are added and
old ones removed. Library webmasters should seek feedback, and work to keep channels open
with PWD. And the focus should be on the benefits of an acce
ssible site to
all

users, not just
PWD.

What libraries currently do or should do


Three services that libraries currently offer with regards to web
-
based resources that
should be accessible to persons with disabilities usually include access to the Interne
t, access to
subscription databases, and a library’s own web page.
Libraries trying to comply with Section
508 are required to “
furnish auxiliary aids and services when necessary to ensure effective
communication”
("Title II Highlights," 2002)
. But what if a library’s budget is so tight that it can
barely afford computers and an e
-
Rate Internet connection? There are a number of options
avail
able to all libraries. The first is to use the features built into each computer’s operating
system and software. For some users with visual impairments, enlarging the font size of text and
images on the screen will make electronic content more accessible.

And both Macintosh and
Windows system software have “universal access” capabilities built in, including the ability to
read
-
aloud text that is on the screen using synthesized speech. On a Mac, this can be found under
System Preferences, and then select Un
iversal Access; the read
-
aloud tool is called “Voice
Over.” On a Windows XP computer, these features can be found by clicking the Start menu,
selecting Accessories, and then Accessibility. This read
-
aloud tool is called Narrator. Both
systems also allow fo
r screen magnification. Exploring and learning the capabilities of these
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systems to enhance accessibility is a free and easy first step for any library’s technology
offerings, regardless of funding restrictions.


Libraries with more substantial technology
budgets have a wide variety of hardware and
software options to choose from to meet the needs of PWD. For patrons with visual impairments,
several software packages are available to “read” the content of a web site or other electronic
document aloud using
synthesized speech. JAWS by
Freedom Scientific

and WindowEyes by
GW Micro

are two of the best
-
known software packages, and both include the ability to output to
a r
efreshable Braille display (which both companies also sell).
Kurzweil

3000 is an education
-
oriented software package that not only reads on screen text aloud, but had a wealth of additional
tools to assist stude
nts with learning difficulties such as attention deficit disorder, dyslexia. It is
designed to integrate with any education package, as well as assisting students whose primary
language is not English. For persons with low vision needing screen magnificati
on software with
features beyond what Microsoft Windows has, MAGIc by
Freedom Scientific

and ZoomText by
Ai Squared

provide this capability. Some of these softwar
e companies offer free trial versions,
have online demonstrations, or both. Prices for this software and related equipment can be high,
so before buying, check with patrons with visual impairments, locals schools, colleges and
universities, as well as non
-
profit organizations that utilize these tools. Get recommendations
from users and professionals in the area before making your purchase.


Joseph (“Joe”) Humbert and Mary Stores are members of Indiana University’s Web
Accessibility Team. Stores is profoundl
y visually impaired, and uses JAWS screen reader
software to work, and to surf the Web.

When asked whether
Windows
-
based or Macintosh
-
based
computers were better for assisting disabled patrons with web
-
based media, Humbert indicated
that the Windows operat
ing system was superior because it had the proper “handles” coded into
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its software for screen readers and assistive technologies to “grab” onto. And according to an
email from Humbert, assistive technology software will be more stable in WindowsVista
beca
use its predecessor, Windows XP, “used hacked together drivers to display the information.”
He also cautions that it is better not to use Vista and JAWS on an older machine because Vista is
a memory hog, and can crash both JAWS and the rest of the system.
Both Microsoft’s Internet
Explorer and Mozilla’s Firefox web browsers allow the user to enlarge both text and images on a
web page, though Firefox does a better job of it. And text can be enlarged only if the web page
being viewed is designed using resizab
le fonts. When asked which browser works best with her
screen reader software, Stores wrote in an email, “
It's mostly the same results with either browser
as far as how JAWS presents a web page.”


An important web
-
based resource that libraries provide is s
ubscription databases.
However, as one study has shown, “most librarians lack the time, resources and/or skills to
evaluate the degree to which their library subscribed databases are accessible to their disability
communities”
(Byerley, Chambers, & Thohira, 2007)
. If librarians cannot evaluate the
accessibility of a database vendor’s product, then do the vendors themselves make an effort to
produce an
accessible product? A 2007 survey of 12 major database companies found that while
most “have integrated accessibility standards/guidelines into their search interfaces and/or plan
to improve accessibility in future releases,” only 5 out of 12 actually cond
uct usability studies
with people who use assistive technology.

A number of studies have found that “while most
databases are functionally accessible, companies need to do more to meet the needs of the
disability community and assure librarians of the acce
ssibility of their products” (ibid).


One way in which subscription databases can be inaccessible to PWD is in how search
results and their accompanying information is delivered to the end user. The three most common
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ways that database documents are deliv
ered are HTML full text, HTML full text with graphics,
and Portable Document Format (or PDF) files. PDF files are notoriously inaccessible to persons
using screen readers. Even though Adobe Systems has made significant strides in rendering
PDF’s accessible
, many databases contain PDF documents created in versions of Adobe Acrobat
prior to version 5.0 (released in 2001), which are not properly tagged for screen readers. Also,
newer PDF documents are only as accessible as their tagging allows. Journal article
s received
from publishers may or may not be properly tagged, so database companies cannot guarantee
that their content is fully accessible. One vendor that is avoiding this trap is JSTOR. Using
optical character recognition (OCR) software, JSTOR delivers
to end users image
-
based PDF’s
with embedded text to make their content available to screen readers
(Byerley et al., 2007)
.
Librarians need to insist

that database packages be accessible, and compatible with the forms of
assistive technology most frequently used by their patrons, both in
-
house and online.


One tool for helping libraries to evaluate whether a database subscription (or other
product) und
er consideration is accessible is the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template
(VPAT). According to the Information Technology Industry (ITI) Council’s web site, “
[i]n 2001,
ITI partnered with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to create a simp
le, Internet
-
based tool to assist Federal contracting and procurement officials in fulfilling the new market
research requirements contained in the Section 508 implementing regulations”
("FAQ: Voluntary
Product Accessibility Template® (VPAT™)," 2004)
. The VPAT is a voluntary disclosure form
arranged
in a series of tables listing the criteria of relevant subsections of Section 508, with blank
cells included where company representatives can describe how their product’s “Supporting
features” meet each of the criteria, as well as provide additional infor
mation in the “Remarks and
explanations” section. Library personnel can ask vendors to complete this form in order to
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document which subsections of Section 508 their product meets, and how. One drawback to this
resource is that evaluators can depend on the
m too much. A company representative fills it out,
but may not have a clear understanding of Section 508 and its technical details, or may not know
enough about their product to answer accurately. While information can empower, the quality
and accuracy of
the information must be verified. In short, whether one is subscribing to a
database or buying software, it is still a “buyer beware” market, even for a library.


Like databases, a library’s web site needs to be accessible to patrons with a variety of
need
s. Making the library web site accessible not only meets the needs of these patrons, but has
added benefits as well. Accessible sites are 35% easier for everyone to use, and are more likely
to be found by Internet search engines
(Muncaster, 2006)
. Accessible web sites are simpler to
maintain and, on average, are 50% smaller than inaccessible versions, which means they
download faster, making t
hem easier to use
(Dunlap, 2006)
. For creating a basic site, current
“best practice” has been to create the content in HTML or XHTML, and design the layout using
CSS. This way, if you discover later that the way the site’s pages are arranged does l
ead to full
accessibility, all that it takes to fix it is to change the CSS layout, instead of having to update
each and every page in the web site. It is also much easier to create an accessible site from the
beginning than it is to retrofit an old one.


A complete rebuild of a library web site is an excellent opportunity to design it around all
of your patrons’ needs, as well as improve accessibility. Reynolds’ article on creating a user
-
centered web site for the Johnson County Library
(Reyno
lds, 2008)

offers an excellent example
of using basic information architecture design principles on a budget. The library focused on
simple, low
-
budget usability studies, involving patrons in the selection of site navigation
categories, designing the layo
ut, and testing the resulting user interface. By involving the site’s
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users in this process, the library was able to achieve substantial improvements in the usability of
the site. Prior to the redesign, usability testing determined that 42% of users were “
not
successful” in finding information on the library’s old site. After the redesign, “only 4% of
patrons were unsuccessful in finding core
-
task information on the first attempt.” However, a
quick test of the site with CynthiaSays® indicates that it does n
ot fully meet the requirements of
Section 508. Had the library’s staff included PWD in their process, the demonstrated degree of
improvement would have allowed them to meet, and possibly exceed this standard.


While enlisting the assistance of PWD can impr
ove the design of any web site, why is it
that web pages overall are difficult to use by persons with visual impairments? What is available
in the standard screen presentation of a web site that is missing when it is read aloud? A recent
study in the UK tr
acked the eye movements of able
-
bodied computer users to try to answer this
question. Researchers asked eighteen participants with normal or corrected vision to search for
answers on two versions of a BBC web site


the standard graphical page and the text
-
only
version. Subjects eyes tended to dart around the standard page “in an attempt to locate what
appears visually to be the next most likely location” for the answer. But in searching the text
-
only page, subjects went line
-
by
-
line, with much smaller jump
s across each page. Researchers
determined that the web page and its layout serve as a form of external memory
(Jay, Stevens,
Glencross, & Chalmers, 20006)
. If the Web is an information superhighway, then
the layout of a
standard page serves as the borders and directional signs for travel thereon.


The way the Internet works today, its visual cues and navigation aids inherent in a page’s
layout do not have an auditory equivalent that audio presentation can
convey to people with
visual impairments. “Information
-
seeking in huge interactive environments such as the World
Wide Web is a complex process.” It “requires the ability to switch and coordinate between
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multiple information
-
seeking strategies” while onlin
e: browsing, scanning, query
-
based
searching, etc.
(Kouroupetroglou, Salampasis, & Manitsaris, 2007)

If any web browser could
translate f
ormatting and presentation into audio, and make it available in a way tailored to the
user, this could make the use of the Internet a far more satisfying experience for all persons with
disabilities. Such web programming would require years of additional r
esearch and work. In the
meantime, web librarians must strive build sites that are clean, hierarchical, and useable by all
persons, utilizing the standards and guidelines currently available.


One way to enhance the accessibility of sites that is availabl
e now is to utilize a “database
driven” web development model. As mentioned previously, current practice in web design is to
put content into a markup languages such as HTML or XHTML, and use CSS to design and
arrange the layout. Dunlap
(Dunlap, 200
6)

takes this one step farther by recommending that
content be stored in a relational database such as MySQL, and use a coding language such as
PHP to create pages dynamically. CSS would still be used to design the page’s layout. This
approach has two adv
antages. First, this allows for the creation of “a flexible web site design
style that lives in a single, easily modified file that controls the presentation of every web page of
the site.” Second, it requires far less time to maintain such a site, time wh
ich can be redirected to
assuring accessibility in the face of new and changing web technology. For libraries in large
metropolitan areas, this is clearly the next step in web site development. This model can also be
suggested to database vendors so that t
heir services can seamlessly integrate with each library’s
online content.

Summary


Librarians in charge of web and hypermedia design and technology management operate
today in an evolving and fluid environment, yet are expected to be all tech
-
things to al
l patrons.
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Legal requirements make it clear that we are expected to offer services to meet the wide variety
of needs of patrons with disabilities. Yet the guidelines and standards available to assist us in this
process are either exceedingly complicated, o
r vague and insufficient. Government agencies
demonstrate inconsistent and varied implementation of their own regulations. Assistive
technologies continue to improve in empowering patrons with disabilities to access our
information services, and many of ou
r traditional vendors consider their products to be
accessible. In actual use, however, substantial challenges and shortcomings remain. As in
successful collection development, technology librarians must be proactive in keeping abreast of
technological adv
ances, and be willing to experiment and learn from their efforts, if they are to
succeed in their goal to provide web or hypermedia information and services to patrons
regardless of ability level.



References


A 25 Year History of the
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Byerley, S. L., Chambers, M. B., & Thohira, M. (2007). Accessibility of web
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Caldwell, B., Cooper, M., Reid, L. G., & Vanderhe
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Clark, J. (2006). To Hell with WCAG 2.
A List Apart

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Irwin, M., Ph.D. (2008). Resources and services for people with disabilities: Lesson 1b
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Jaeger, P. T.
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Jay, C., Stevens, R., Glencross, M., & Ch
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Muncaster, P. (2006). Poor accessibility has a price.
VNU Net

Retrieved July 27, 2008

Reynolds, E. (2008). The Secret

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Steinmetz, E. (2002).
Americans with Disabilities
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Title II Highlights. (2002).
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