Saturday, November 03, 2012

Communities of Practice in Penn State's Web Accessibility Initiative


Institutional challenges require an institutional response. How the institution designs its response will  in large part determine its success, and whether it is sustainable. Will it suffice to meet the challenge it faces, and then fade away? A truly adaptive, learning institution will acculturate change at a deep level so that the corrective processes continue and the challenge doesn't evolve to re-emerge yet again.

How do we learn and acculturate new technologies and processes? One way is to encourage our organization's communities of practice to adapt to challenges. By watching our communities of practice respond to challenges, we can also identify the leadership that emerges. The emergent leadership, given support, opportunity and coaching, will naturally use their passion and influence to share their knowledge within their communities, thereby speeding adoption of technology and process change, and increasing capability and capacity within the institution.

This article is a case study of Penn State's ongoing response to the complaint filed against it regarding the accessibility of its websites, applications and services. Our focus is: how communities of practice change in response to institutional challenges, the observation that the leadership to address challenges emerges from within these communities, and that the social learning processes that allow communities of practice to adapt to new challenges also support the sustainability of new technology and practice.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Screenreaders - Web Page Testing Tools


Screen readers are a useful tool for sighted users when testing web pages for accessibility. While there are serious limitations to the experience of people that do not depend on, and have little experience using, screen readers, they are nevertheless a useful addition to any designer and developer's toolbox. And usefulness increases with practice.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Web Accessibity: Fix the Blockers First

The WCAG2 standard is a massive body of principles, guidelines, and techniques to help web designers and developers eliminate unintended barriers to their websites. Some say too massive.

WCAG2 does what standards are expected to do: it is the standard reference in the field. But handing down to a website staff a project to "make all web resources compliant with WCAG2 standards" is all but impossible without some sensible, structured plan.

Part of that plan must prioritize requirements, or it's just not a plan. Sometimes, the priorities are handed to you if, for example, you are responding to a complaint, or if the institution serves a special constituency.

The priority barriers may be easily identified, as it is in the case of the agreement Penn State has made with the National Federation of the Blind. They are the blockers - the barriers to screen reader users that cannot be finessed, and for which there are no work arounds.

Goals and requirements may vary, but always identify the blockers first.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Is There a Need for a Professional Accessibility Society?

The question posing the need for a professional society, was the topic of Taking Accessibility Mainstream, a pre-conference event held at the CSUN Conference. The simplicity of the question belies the complexity of a well reasoned answer. Yes, there is a need for greater professionalism in accessibility practice. Yes, the consumers of accessibility services need to trust that the people and parties they hire are current in their knowledge of accessibility, and can to execute their projects. That would argue for a professional society, and maybe training and certification. Right?

Well, "maybe" is what I heard from the distinguished, and diverse, group of attendees.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Web Accessibility: Old, New Legal Challenges

How did educational institutions reach this point, where they're suddenly vulnerable to increasing risk of legal action over issues of web accessibility? Especially when the issues were so well defined and understood?

Because laws and regulations have, until now, not explicitly addressed web accessibility, case law only caused more confusion, and fixing years of benign neglect is expensive.

Monday, August 23, 2010

@longdesk Excluded from HTML5

The longdesc attribute, a little-used attribute to describe images in more detail that can be accomplished using the alt attribute alone, has been removed from the HTML5 specification by the HTML5 Working Group. This decision was made despite the recommendations by the HTML Accessibility Task Force to include the attribute.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The Shifting Website Marketplace

This is one of several posts inspired by thoughts and conversations while attending the Spring 2010 Internet2 meeting in Arlington, VA.

News from Facebook about their new move to corner market opportunities in the web's social network - Open Graph - is yet another reminder that the web ecosystem can radically change in the blink of an eye. For WebLion, it's a call for us to review the shifting threats and opportunities in our market and determine whether our strategic and tactical plans are still relevant.

The Social Networking Bubble

This is one of several posts inspired by thoughts and conversations while attending the Spring 2010 Internet2 meeting in Arlington, VA.

There's no surprise in the passion and rapidity of the adoption of social networking technologies for teaching and learning. It's exciting, disruptive to the old school methods, and it's game changing; it opens new possibilities for teaching and learning; and it can advance the mission and competitive position of Penn State. And yet, it seems that it has the same scary feel of an investment bubble - everybody is giddy and feeling sexy, so why question its use in the educational institution?