Information, Technology & Consulting

Accessible Dartmouth

Screen shot of the new website

Dartmouth launched a new web design in 2013.

Matthew Richardson

User Experience Designer Matthew Richardson

When architects design a building, they should consider everyone who may enter the structure. If it’s a public, commercial, or institutional building they MUST consider all, as this is part of Life and Safety code. Ramps and the width of doorways ensure passage for those in wheel chairs; brail helps the blind locate specific rooms; the heights of switches, water fountains, and handrails accommodate all potential users. Even the profiles of handrail components must meet usability requirements in order to pass life and safety code inspections before a building can be certified for occupancy.

Such considerations should be equally important when web teams build a site.

When accessing content, web users with vision loss may use screen readers such as JAWS to listen to it; those with hearing loss may use captioning to read it; and people with physical disabilities may use Dragon voice software to create and access it. Websites should be able to support all of these applications and should also be able to display and operate equally robustly on different devices, such as smart phones and tablets.

Dartmouth’s web strategy goes beyond making sites “technically” accessible with separate content; the College wants its sites to work for everyone and every device. “We’re striving for the lofty goal of ensuring the websites we create are accessible to all users,” says Susan Lee, Director of Web Services.

In 2010, the College set forth a Web Accessibility Initiative whose recommendations included assessing the Dartmouth website template, studying Dartmouth’s digital environment (including elements such as maps and forms), and taking stock of captioning used on YouTube videos.

Since then, the College made several strides in that enterprise: it launched a new website in spring 2013, captioned all videos under 15 minutes, and guided academic departments in website creation. The College adopted standards set by the Worldwide Web Consortium and the U.S. Federal Government and is committed to having its web presence meet accessibility standards as outlined at the Rehabilitation Act Section 508 or WCAG 2.0 AA Standards.

User Experience Designer Matthew Richardson joined Dartmouth’s Web Services team as a web accessibility specialist in 2011. Richardson’s first job out of college was as a web designer for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, one of the strictest government agencies on accessibility. When Dartmouth’s website was overhauled last year, Richardson assessed its templates for accessibility, running them through a JAWS reader to make sure they were compliant. He says that even though there are some “fancy elements” on dartmouth.edu, the fact that it is built in CSS, html, and javascript, makes it accessible by screen readers, speech recognition software, keyboard overlays, and other modes.

Lee says that anyone struggling to use the Dartmouth website using JAWS, a smartphone, or in any other way should let her team know: “We will investigate each problem and come up with a solution that makes the Dartmouth website a better place for everyone.”

Contact Web Services at [email protected].

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