I’ll be the guest on Higher Ed Live this Sunday at 4PM PST / 7PM EST. The topic is web accessibility and higher education websites. I’m really excited to be on the show!
Ensuring our websites are usable by people of all abilities and disabilities is a legal and moral obligation many higher ed institutions have failed to live up to. Eric Stoller, an Oregon-based student affairs technology expert, national speaker, and blogger for Inside HigherEd, joins Higher Ed Live to talk about accessibility on the high ed web, including legal requirements, who’s doing it right and all the tools a school needs to get it up to speed.
I attended Indian Hills Community College (IHCC) in Ottumwa, Iowa from 1995 to 1997. During my time at IHCC I joined the jazz band, played my trombone for the pep band and signed up for my first email account with Hotmail. It was a phenomenally developmental period in my life. My IHCC academic advisor, Tom Stewart, is still a close mentor and friend. My love of higher education began at IHCC.
As a member of eduStyle, I frequently submit higher education websites for community review. When Indian Hills recently re-designed their website, I immediately submitted the new site design to eduStyle. I was unaware that my IHCC story was one of the featured stories on the homepage. I had submitted answers, over a year ago, to a questionnaire about my IHCC experiences. When the new site design was entered in on eduStyle, the site thumbnail showed a different homepage image. Brad J. Ward notified me via Twitter of my “celebrity” status.
The new design is definitely an improvement compared to the previous iteration:
I was perusing the recently added sites on eduStyle when I came upon the submission for Hartnell College!!*. As the self-appointed keeper of all things that have to do with Brown University’s homepage design, I couldn’t help but think that the folks at Hartnell actually did Brown a favor by not copying Brown’s “accordion” drop-down navigation verbatim. Instead, Hartnell College opted for a 100 percent width accordion drop down that induces dizziness, nausea and Dramamine purchases.
I’ve decided that Hartnell College’s homepage design is useful for two reasons:
I finally got around to reading The eduStyle Guide to Usable Higher-Ed Homepage Design this weekend. I had skimmed the electronic version when it arrived in my inbox in March. The book is full of insights into the ways in which higher education institutions design their websites. I think that it’s the first book that really focuses on web design from a higher education perspective.
Over the past two years, a number of designers have asked permission to use the University’s code, and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Ohio State University and the University of Alabama in Huntsville have created Web sites that look and function just like Brown’s.
Though the code for Brown’s site is copyrighted, the University views the similar designs as a compliment, said Director of Web Communications Scott Turner.
Turner learned about OSU’s similar Web site design last October, when the OSU webmaster sent him an e-mail asking if the site infringed upon Brown’s copyright.
“I don’t know if the code they used was stolen. They wanted to imitate us, and that’s their business,” Turner said. “We’re flattered.”
In responses to inquiries about its home page design, the University has notified Web site developers of the copyright on Brown’s code. But the University has also directed them to two open source libraries Brown drew on heavily in developing its code, encouraging site developers to employ the same public resources in efforts to “duplicate” the site, Turner said.
Alcalde said she knew of no licensing or copyright issues with the designs of the site, and she added that there are some “pretty significant differences in design.”
Despite those differences, the similarities among the three sites have raised questions in the blogosphere. Eric Stoller, who blogs about higher education and technology, posted last month about the OSU site.
Target Corp. will revamp its Web site to make it more accessible for the blind and pay $6 million in damages to plaintiffs who joined a class action lawsuit against the retailer, under a settlement announced yesterday with the National Federation of the Blind.
Virginia Tech has selected HiSoftware’s Compliance Sheriff to address management of its Web site accessibility. Compliance Sheriff is a browser-based service that crawls a Web site and compares pages against a user-defined set of criteria. The tool will compare the school’s site against world-wide accessibility guidelines such as the federally-defined Section 508, which addresses how technology should be designed to enable its use by people with physical impairments, and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0/2.0, from the World Wide Web Consortium, which address Web content and mobile Web applications.
Screenreaders don’t like flash, and I’ve invested huge amounts of time to try and satisfy the requirements of a flash (SlideshowPro) feature spot being “cool” and compliant at the same time. It ain’t easy folks. And there are quite a few universities deploying homepage flash content that isn’t accessible. And you know who you are.
WebAnywhere provides access to the web from any machine with a modern web browser and some way to play audio. It is useful for web developers who would like to check their pages for accessibility and for blind web users using a computer where no other screen reader is available.
I’m not going to post my confidential judge’s comments…However, I’m glad that the University of Tennessee – Knoxville, Biola University, University of Notre Dame, Boston University and the frequently borrowed Brown University were among the award winners. Congratulations!
Found within the CSS of the OSU site:
“Why did Pentagram design this at such a small width?”
Pentagram Inc., in collaboration with Brown University’s Public Affairs and University Relation’s staff, created the BU homepage design. Why is a comment about Pentagram Inc. in the CSS file for the OSU website? Because the OSU site “borrowed” the BU code. Verbatim!
“The copyright for this material rests with Pentagram Inc and Brown University. You may not alter this information, repost or sell it without prior permission.”
Umm. I don’t think that the University of Alabama in Huntsville got the message. Jump to UWebD and eduStyle for additional commentary. This is definitely more than just a case of borrowed design ideas, colors, grid, etc. Brown’s stylesheet is named “master.css”. UAH’s is named “master2.css.” The HTML looks like a badly synthesized genetic clone.
I’m a huge fan of Brown University’s home page design. It’s too bad that UAH took their fandom a bit too far.
PS: Brown’s site is so hip that it is even prepped and ready for iPhones! I found this little gem in their source code: sets width for iphones.
I remember the first time I closed my eyes, put on a pair of headphones and browsed the web using a screen reader. It was extremely challenging. Images without ALT attributes, Flash objects, and poorly coded websites left me feeling extremely frustrated and gave me even more empathy for web users with visual impairments. I think all website designers/coders should experience what it’s like to browse the web using a screen reader. This video shows Aaron Cannon, blind since birth, browsing a website using a screen reader.