Sara Clark and her team have spearheaded efforts to make Missouri State’s websites accessible to all students, including those with disabilities, and their efforts have received national recognition.
Missouri State University was named the institution with the best college website in the nation for blind students in a December 2010 ranking by the Chronicle of Higher Education, a well-known newspaper that covers higher education in the U.S. and abroad.
The University earned this recognition by implementing industry standards for accessibility, building those standards into their templates for Web pages. That means any time a page is designed, it should automatically work for any user whether he or she is blind, deaf or has other disabilities.
MSU’s web and new media office consulted with the Disability Resource Center on campus during the process, receiving input and feedback. They also had a team of graduate assistants review each Web page on campus and coordinate with departments to update sites that need to be refreshed.
The web team made a strong effort to incorporate accessibility techniques throughout design and coding.
“Something that’s evolving right now is auto-captioning of video using speech-to-text software,” Clark said. This software creates a written transcription, meaning deaf students can read what’s going on in the video.
Clark’s office also tries to create only one design per page — a universal design that may be used by those who are blind, deaf, etc. — instead of creating two or more versions of each web page (one for general users and one for users with disabilities).
“(When you have two designs), that would mean that the content always has to be updated for the two pages,” said Chad Killingsworth, the assistant director in the office of web and new media. “Instead, we try to make sure one page is accessible in the same manner to all audiences.”
When they find a way of designing a page that makes the Web more accessible, they then use that method in more designs, said Brian Heaton, content management programmer.
“The tools we utilize to create web pages have accessibility requirements considered and built in where possible so that when we’re building a website in the everyday course of making updates, what we are doing is accessible.”
Even the software Clark purchases for web design can help make websites accessible.
“You have to keep thinking about what you use, buy and promote,” she said. “(Accessibility) isn’t just about what we create, but also what we purchase.”
Their efforts for students have been noticed on campus as well as in the national media: “We’ve gotten thank you notes from the Blind Student Association,” Clark said.
For her, it’s obvious that all students, faculty, staff and parents should be able to easily navigate the University’s websites.
“We all like to do things that help people do their jobs, and the web is an online venue for that,” Clark said. “Making websites for accessibility — making them available in a format that everyone can use — helps everybody.”