Accessibility issues in school libraries

Edwards-Johnson (2009) begins her article on accessibility issues in libraries discussing her own experience as a child with a deaf classmate. She reflects how libraries are more than just books and that many of the library’s technological aspects are available to students 24 hours a day. She briefly discusses federal and state laws that obligate school districts, schools and libraries to make this electronic information accessible to the users they serve. Edwards-Johnson lays a strong foundation for how web pages can be poorly thought out for disabilities. Accessibility problems may range from a person not being able to navigate the page to a photoepileptic seizure. I started doing a casual inventory of what I’ve included on my project that would be a hindrance to its use.  It might also be a good idea to consider the accessibility of a site in its summary.

Edwards-Johnson (2009) mentions that there are plenty of tech gadgets that can be purchased, but she also suggests there are some easier ways to be compliant with the law and make a page more accessible. She stresses using The World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) (2001) Quick Tips to Make Accessible Web Sites. The ten tips include suggestions like always using the alt attribute, providing captioning and transcripts for audios and videos, summarize tables, graphs and charts, organize the pages with headings and consistent structure.  Edwards-Johnson suggests that almost every webpage can be cleaned up using these standards, and they are not necessarily a recipe for boring everyone with the material. But she does stress that every webpage should be looked at through fresh eyes to see what cute or unnecessary page items make it non-useable for many users. This is a valuable link with ten excellent suggestions. Hypertext links was one that I have noticed used poorly in the past. The suggestion is to use text that clearly states where the link is going instead of the old standby of click here. There is also an attribute I had not heard of before called longdesc. However, when trying to find out exactly what it does, I ran across the statement that it is poorly supported in even the major browsers (w3schools, 2010). The page organization is also an area that seems to need help on many sites. Site maps can be hard to find and sometimes even maneuver. Pages can be named in ways that do not represent connections or hierarchy. The use of the alt attributed specifically caught my eye since I was in a Moodle training course a couple of weeks ago and found I could not leave a page if I did not enter alternate text for an image or link. I learned that this was to ensure accessibility for the visually impaired.

A newer link (W3C, 2008) to newer accessibility standards is found on the quick tips page. This page has 12 standards divided into four categories: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. Many of the items listed on the prior page are still included. Items under perceivable consist of text alternatives, captions, adaptability and contrast.  Operable includes keyboard accessibility, giving enough time, non-seizure inducing items and help with navigation and finding content. The understandable category comprises readability and predictability. It also stresses finding and fixing mistakes. The last category, robust, involves compatibility with current and future technologies. Longdesc is not mentioned on this page at all, but clear content and captions or alternatives to text is prevalent. I have used the W3C site for web help over the years, but I had not seen what they had to offer for accessibility. They have link after link that goes deep into building an accessible website. Hours could be spent digging around for information. I’m not sure that all of the suggestions could ever be implemented without hindering the site start-up, but the quick tips pages are a good place to start and then expand from there.

Edwards-Johnson (2009) ended her article arguing that this is not just about disabilities. She stresses that we have users with undiagnosed needs or developmental needs. She even mentioned children still too short to reach certain shelves or the user at home who is not computer savvy. When librarians make these assistive adaptations, they may be helping more users than they could ever identify.  She mentions talking with users to make sure that their needs have been met and finding out about their experiences. This seems a crucial point. It is so easy to get caught up in the business of working and to do all the things that press us to be done, that we could just as easily lose sight of that user and his experience.

References:

Edwards-Johnson, A. (2009). Library media specialists and assisted technology. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 25(10), 22-24.

W3schools. (2010). Html <img>longdesc attribute. Retrieved July 6, 2010 from http://www.w3schools.com/TAGS/att_img_longdesc.asp

World Wide Web consortium. (2001). Quick tips to make accessible web sites. Retrieved on July 6, 2010 from http://www.w3.org/WAI/quicktips/

World Wide Web Consortium. (2008). Web accessibility quicktips. Retrieved on July 6, 2010 from http://www.w3org/WAI/WCAG20/glance

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