How NDSU Optimizes Their Website for Accessibility

How NDSU Optimizes Their Website for Accessibility

When we think of accessibility, often we think of tangible examples like closed captions on a TV screen and preferred parking spots for easier access to buildings, stores, etc. But one of the places where accessibility can have the biggest impact is when it’s part of the digital experience build.

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Web accessibility is defined as web design and development ensures easy access online – be it unassisted or through assistive technologies – for people of all abilities. And with approximately one in four people living with a disability in the United States, that’s a lot of people that also deserve an engaging digital experience.

“You wouldn't build a new building without a wheelchair-accessible ramp or elevator? So why would you build your website any differently?” Adam Segar, partner alliance manager at Siteimprove, said in his Acquia Engage presentation, “Through the Eyes of All Users – How NDSU Optimizes Their Website for Everyone.”

Siteimprove, together with Palantir, took on the accessibility challenge for North Dakota State University. Founded in 2003, Siteimprove offers the world's most comprehensive digital presence optimization (DPO) software. Since 1996, Palantir, one of Siteimprove and Acquia’s partners has helped organizations transform websites into modern platforms that deliver results. Palantir’s mission is to strengthen humanity by helping others discover, create, and share knowledge.

Nelson Harris, sales manager at Palantir, explained how NDSU brought in Palantir during a site build that was already in progress in order to assist with audits and provide additional build support. A large focus of the audit was on accessibility, and Palantir used Siteimprove’s tools to identify issues, fix any issues that were found and then verify that those issues fixed.

When approaching an accessibility project, build with everyone in mind, from the content to the design to the development. That said, there are different levels of accessibility to consider. What will provide a great customer experience and appeal to the greater market, but is also accommodating for people of all abilities? The way these levels are determined, according the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) as as follows:

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Perceivable – Can everyone “see” this?

  • Provide captions and other alternatives for multimedia.
  • Provide text alternatives for non-text content.

Operable – Can everyone operate this?

  • Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
  • Help users navigate and find content.

Understandable – Can everyone understand this?

  • Make text readable and understandable.
  • Help users avoid and correct mistakes.

Robust – Can all devices use this?

  • Maximize compatibility with current and future user tools.
  • Write good code.

Whenever Palantir takes on an accessibility project, it looks at three main categories: content, design, and development. Looking at NDSU, they had the following considerations:

Content:

  • When it comes to content, it should be written with clear and concise language. It should be short and explanatory so a screen reader can speak it back to you and you know exactly what the content is about.  
  • Images should be labeled with alt text and titles. Although “IMG001.JPEG” may roll easily off the tongue, it doesn’t relay very much relevant information about the image on the screen. Try to have fields in the CMS for text so authors don’t have to rely on embedding text on images (images of text, not selectable) which is an accessibility violation.
  • Make sure you’re including meta tags and that they make sense. Provide context and name your links based on what content they link to. No “click here” links.

Design:

  • An important aspect of color on the web for both low-vision and colorblind users is sufficient contrast between foreground (text or graphics) and the background.
  • A consistent experience when it comes to navigation is important, especially for low-vision, and those who use screen magnification to display a small portion of the screen, as they often use visual cues and page boundaries to quickly locate repeated content. You don’t want your navigation and menus to change from page to page.
  • It’s important to make sure that the work you’re doing to make things accessible is translating across different devices and breakpoints.
  • Clear layout and organization is important, again, for consistency of the experience.

Development:

  • Review the checklist for WCAG 2.1 in development and make sure nothing was missed.
  • Avoid unnecessary repetition, extra useless words, and dynamic URL strings in your URL structure; URLs should help describe the page they point to.
  • Semantic markup means make sure that your markup elements are being used appropriately. A common offender is using your headings in the wrong hierarchy.
  • Try to make sure that there’s a requirement of alt text input on the admin side when putting in images.
  • Check for editorial workflows that create structure and enforce compliance. Providing help text to authors when they’re entering text.

Siteimprove’s tools were able to look at each category and what was within the accessibility guidelines and what needed to be addressed. They also provided continual scans of the website, reporting on real-time issues and errors, customized reporting and dashboards and prioritizes issues based on:

  • Number of errors.
  • Page level.
  • Page views.
  • Clicks on broken links.

In addition, Siteimprove’s tools kept a history of items completed, ignored, or found.

Accessibility audits are always a process and it’s important to find a balance and not sacrifice overall design and marketing in order to meet the letter of standards. This threshold is different for everyone. NDSU isn’t doing all the accessibility improvements identified on their current site just yet, but accessibility compliance is a journey and a constant work in progress. The team there is working diligently to make improvements and fixes to get as close as possible to balancing aesthetics of the design with the technical constraints that can come from accessibility compliance.

To deep dive on the NDSU project with Palantir.net and Siteimprove, register now for the upcoming webinar How to Achieve Website Accessibility for Everyone, taking place on Jan. 31.

Reena Leone

Former Senior Manager, Content Marketing Acquia

Reena Leone had nearly 10 years of digital marketing experience, working for both digital agencies and global brands.

A self-described “writer, podcaster, cosplayer, and nerd,” she said her favorite aspect of working at Acquia was her collaboration with colleagues.

“When we say ‘#ilovemyteam,’ it's not a joke. This is the kind of place where you can be you; individuality is encouraged,” Leone said.

Since she started at Acquia, Leone had the opportunity to forge her own career path, she said.

“This flexibility has made me more capable of handling any challenge thrown my way, and allowed me to grow my skills as a writer, editor, and manager.”