My del.icio.us shows that Friday I attended an accessibility workshop given by Jon Gunderson of UIUC. I’m happy to say I didn’t learn that much, which means I’ve been paying attention. But that’s not to discount the value of the workshop. I did pick up some good ideas, got a chance to use some new software, and basically spent the whole day thinking about accessibility, which is a good thing. Maybe only 3% of the workshop was new to me, but that 3% makes a huge difference.
Gunderson showed the Functional Accessibility Evaluator, which is pretty cool; it evaluates pages and sites with an emphasis on accessibility affordances (e.g. the use of headlines), not just standards compliance. He also demonstrated the Accessible Web Publishing Wizard, a tool for making MS Office HTML more accessible, which is critical since for many people it’s a primary web authoring tool. Gunderson also spoke at length about the connection between web standards and accessibility; in some ways, his presentation was more about the former than the latter.
Update: I forgot to mention the most important thing I learned: there’s a bill in the Illinois legislature (SB0511) making web accessibility a requirement for government sites. Note the first amendment broadens the definitions considerably from the original (which was mostly about visual impairment). Good; maybe this will put some teeth into IWAS.
Apropos accessibility, this summer I’ll be rebuilding the English & Journalism site from the ground up, which won’t be that hard since I’ve templated it extensively via CSS and server side includes. Here’s a preliminary do list:
- Revamp and improve headline structure
- Cut navigation way back and move to end of page
- Liquid layout based on new WIU design
- New front page with a lot less text
- Search on every page
- Write code for a dynamic site map
- Rewrite code for directory, integrating with WIU more (if they will play…)
Part of this is driven by my desire to improve accessibility, applying what I’ve learned since I designed the site in Summer 2004, but did not have time to implement. In the end I hope to create a model for accessible, usable design that WIU will consider back-applying to its new web site structure. On the one hand, I’m pleased by the new design’s standards compliance and its improved accessibility. On the other hand, I think usability took a hit, and I’m convinced that it’s time to put fixed-width layouts to bed. (I need to do that around here as well.) But before I work on that, some other things demand my attention.