Guidelines on Making Websites Accessible (for Persons with Disabilities)

This week, I started creating a WordPress theme for our website, and in doing so, spent a lot of time reading on making a website accessible for persons with disabilities. While we do have legislation stating that all university websites need to be accessible by next year (?) (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)), our university and library take pride in being accessible. For some reason though, our website is not all that accessible.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Now on version 2.0, most government and public organizations are being held accountable in being compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The guidelines divides up the requirements into three levels: A, AA, AAA. While the guidelines themselves are a little hard to decipher, w3 provides a customizable quick reference to break the guidelines down into a more readable document.

The Design

When it comes to the general design of the website, it’s actually fairly simple.

  • Order and use of elements should make sense even in text only (1.3)
  • Minimum contrast (1.4.3)
  • Text resize up to 200% in the browser without lost functionality (1.4.4)
  • Keyboard accessible and easy to navigate (2.1, 2.4.1, 2.4.5) – have different ways to get to your content
  • Make your site predictable (3.2)
  • Provide error identification, suggestions, and instructions (3.3)
  • Make it compatible with assistive technologies (4.1)

The bottom line: your website should work (and make sense) even without JavaScript and CSS, and in text-only mode.

The Difficult Part: Making A/V Content Accessible

I don’t think a lot of people realize that designing a website to be accessible is not the hard part. The hard part in an organization is making sure that the content posted on the website is accessible. In particular, audio/visual elements should have text alternatives, whether that be closed captions, alt text or transcripts.

In order to ensure that content is also accessible, web developers need to work with other staff whether inside their own department or in the greater institution to educate staff who are creating content, because even something as simple as images need text alternatives.

At a college or university, best to contact the accessibility centre/unit on campus to work with them. They might already have the tools or know-how to make a/v content accessible.

Making a WordPress Accessible Theme

So, why reinvent the wheel? That’s what I thought anyway, but there are some issues with using an existing theme and modifying it. I wanted one that was in HTML5/CSS3, and then I later discovered that it should also be using the WordPress Settings API (which was difficult because it was only added in 2.7 so not everyone is using it).

Long story short, I didn’t find any, but then in looking through the files, it turns out the built-in/sample WordPress theme TwentyEleven fits all of these requirements! They do not tout that the theme is accessible, but many of the elements are present in the theme.

I will be posting more once the theme is done (or mostly done anyway) with more details on any changes I will have to make, but I’m thinking they will be very few if any.

A Few Tools

You can find a rather extensive list of tools for evaluating accessibility on the w3c website, but one of the most useful I found was: WAVE, which provides different views of a webpage with alerts and errors (there is also a browser plugin version). There are also a number of good colour contrast checkers browser plugins.

Code4lib Day 1: Lightning Talks Notes

Al Cornish – XTF in 300 seconds (Slides in PDF)

  • technology developed and maintained by California Digital Library
  • supports the search/display of digital collections (images, PDFs, etc)
  • fully open source platform, based on Apache Lucene search toolkit
  • Java framework, runs in Tomcat or Jetty servlet engine
  • extensive customization possible through XSLT programming
  • user and developer group communication through Google Groups
  • search interface running on Solr with facets
  • can output in RSS
  • has a debug mode

Makoto Okamoto – saveMLAK (English)

  • Aid activities for the Great East Japan Earthquake through collaboration via wiki
  • input from museum, library, archive, kominkan = MLAK
  • 20,000 data of damaged area
  • Information about places, damages, and relief support
  • Key Lessons
    • build synergy with twitter
    • have offline meet ups & training

Andrew Nagy – Vendors Suck

  • vendors aren’t really that bad
  • used to think vendors suck, and that they don’t know how to solve libraries’ problems
  • but working for a vendor allows to make a greater impact on higher education, more so than from one university (he started to work for SerialsSolution)
  • libraries’ problems aren’t really that unique
  • together with the vendor, a difference can be made
  • call your vendors and talk to the product managers
  • if they blow you off, you’ve selected the wrong vendor
  • sometimes vendor solutions can provide a better fit

Andreas Orphanides – Heat maps

The library needed grad students to teach instructional sessions, but how to set schedule when classes have a very inflexible schedule? So, he used the data of 2 semesters of instructional sessions using date and start time, but there were inconsistent start times and duration. The question is how best to visualize the data.

  • heatmap package from clickheat
  • time of day – x-dimension
  • day of the week – y-dimension
  • could see patterns in way that you can’t in histogram or bar graph
  • heat map needn’t be spatial
  • heat maps can compare histogram-like data along a single dimension or scatter-like plot data to look for high density areas

Gabriel Farrell – ElasticSearch

Nettie Lagace from NISO

  • National Information Standards Organization (NISO)
  • work internationally
  • want to know: What environment or conditions are needed to identify and solve the problem of interoperability problems?

Eric Larson – Finding images in book page images

A lot of free books exist out there, but you can’t have the time to read them all. What if you just wanted to look at the images? Because a lot of books have great images.

He used curl to pull all those images out, then use imagemagick to manage the images. The processing steps:

  1. Convert to greyscale
  2. Contrast boost x8
  3. Covert image to 1px by height
  4. Sharpen image
  5. Heavy-handed grayscaling
  6. Convert to text
  7. Look for long continuous line of black to pull pages with images

Code is on github

Adam Wead – Blacklight at the Rock Hall

  • went live, soft launch about a month ago
  • broken down to the item level
  • find bugs he doesn’t know about for a beer!

Kelley McGrath – Finding Movies with FRBR & Facets

  • users are looking for movies, either particular movie or genre/topic
  • libraries describe publications e.g. date by DVD, not by movie
  • users care about versions e.g. Blu-Ray, language
  • Try the prototyped catalog
  • Hit list provides one result per movie, can filter by different facets

Bohyun Kim – Web Usability in terms of words

  • don’t over rely on the context
  • but context is still necessary for understanding e.g. “mobile” – means on the go, what they want on the go
  • sometimes there is no better term e.g. “Interlibrary Loan”
  • brevity will cost you “tour” vs. “online tour”
  • Time ran out, but check out the rest of the slides

Simon Spero – Restriction Classes, Bitches


  • lets you define properties
  • control what the property can apply to
  • control the values the property can take
  • provides an easy way to do this
  • provides a really confusing way to do this

The easy way is usually wrong!

When defining what can apply to and the range, this applies to every use of the property. An alternative is Attempto.

Cynthia Ng – Processing & ProcessingJS

  • Processing: open source visual programming language
  • Processing.js: related project to make processing available through web browsers without plugins
  • While both tend to focus on data visualizations, digital art, and (in the case of PJS) games, there are educational oriented applications.
  • Examples:
    • Kanji Compositing – allows visual breakdown of Japanese kanji characters, interact with parts, and see children.
    • Primer on Bezier Curves – scroll down to see interactive (i.e. if you move points, replots on the fly) and animated graphs.
  • Obvious use might be instructional materials, but how might we apply it in this context? What other applications might we think of in the information organization world?

Since doing the presentation, I have already gotten one response by Dan Chudnov who did a quick re-rendering of newspaper data from OCR data. Still thinking on (best) use in libraries and other information organizations.

It’s over for today, but if you’d like more, do remember that there is a livestream and you can follow on twitter, #c4l12 or IRC.