I am Not an Attorney – Can I say anything about Accessibility?

One of the most frustrating aspects of the accessibility situation at Penn State has been the inability to say anything concrete because of the legal situation. Not only can I not comment specifically about the case, but I can’t always give concrete advice. At Penn State, we’re waiting for word on critical details so we can give concrete advice at some point.

But there’s actually been a lot happening behind the scenes. The change in Penn State Policy A.D. 25 requiring marketing videos to be captioned has added more fuel to the fire. The NFB is forcing us to examine issues for visually impaired users, but it’s important to remember that accessibility is about multiple audiences.

And there have been discussions (lots and lots) and one theme that has emerged is how we will be able to deploy accessibility training. This is tricky because there are multiple audiences and each has its own skills and needs. The other tricky part is the number of technology applications this touches on. But we’re starting to get some events on the books, and I hope they help.

Accessibility has traditionally concerned itself with static Web pages, but the NFB complaint has actually addressed services like ANGEL, services from the Libraries and other services – some of which are not entirely under our control. The problem isn’t the Web, but what we’re plugging into the Web. If you’re getting dizzy, you’re not alone.

Some Interim Advice

I’m not an attorney, but I will give some advice I think makes sense.

  1. Incorporate accessibility into any technology initiative NOW. Doing accessibility one piece at a time is really not that bad. The retrofit, on the other hand, can be a killer. It’s one of the reasons accessibility has been feared. The sooner you think accessibility, the less retrofitting you will have to do in the long run.
  2. Think audience, not technology. When encountering a new tech, put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Any technology relying on audio will need captions or transcripts. Any tech relying on visuals will need to be translated into text somehow (and so will the software controls). Anyone having problems moving a mouse will need assistance (often keyboard shortcuts). Color coding has to work even if you don’t have normal color vision. Once you think in these terms, the rules make more sense.

  3. Think information, not aesthetics. It’s difficult if not impossible to convey the sensation of a Monet painting or Beethoven’s 5th in words, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any important important to be extracted. A description of a painting could focus on the images or an important detail depicted in the image. Similarly a description of a piece of music could focus on rhythm, lyrics or some other aspect of the music.
  4. Accessibility Benefits Everyone. It’s kind of a cheesy slogan, but it does address the PR problem for accessibility is that the target audience seems so small. But ALT tags are excellent when an image fails to download, and captions are equally good when the audio is muddled or plain not working. I personally gravitate to larger text because I’m not quite up to bifocals yet and keyboard shortcuts because I’m holding off carpal tunnel.
  5. Panic, but move on. I’ll be honest and admit that my first reaction to accessibility was “Ugh!”, but then I moved on, and I’m glad I did. It really has made me a better designer and I have seen tangible benefits of accessibility accommodation in my life.

Will everything NEED to be accessible? The scope is certainly under debate, and I admit that there’s a good chance that your personal blog will probably NOT be subject accessibility guidelines.

However, the wider your potential audience, the more likely you may be impacted by accessibility issues, if not today, then some time down the road. Just saying…

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