The University of East London’s Web and Digital Media Team has actively engaged in developing the accessibility of its website since May 2002, when it first established progressive standards of design, usability and accessibility within the higher education sector by the publication of a new corporate site that substantially met the needs of disabled users among its wider audiences.
This current version of the site, published in July 2013, builds on this experience and continues to push the boundaries of what is possible when providing feature-rich and well-presented pages for a digitally literate audience that has high expectations of current media, whilst also accommodating as wide a range of user profiles as possible.
At the time of writing this quality of design has been applied to a top level of the site’s pages, which many users will navigate within. The same standard will be extended to the entire site as soon as possible, though it should be noted that our older pages should still be very easy to access, having previously been developed to be as accessible as possible at an earlier time.
We recognise that the provision of an accessible web site may not on its own satisfy the requirements of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) 2001, but that it is an important step towards doing so.
UEL is committed to achieving high levels of accessibility through its web pages as part of its wider support for equality of opportunity and treatment throughout its learning community. With this new version of the corporate site the Web and Digital Media Team intends to continue being at the forefront of inclusive design.
For the record, technically the site seeks to be compliant with the World Wide Web Consortium's(W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and with its standards for XHTML and HTML mark-up. We aim to achieve AAA Standard across as many areas as we can, though recognise that this will not necessarily make our content perfectly accessible to all individuals with disabilities.
Our templates are subjected to automated checks and manual testing, to validate them against standards - and to live user-group assessment, on an ongoing basis. We are aware, however, that the standards set by the Web and Digital Media Team may be eroded accidentally by the workflow processes that presently support a wider community of content providers. The University of East London will be addressing that by the implementation of an Enterprise Content Management System as a follow on project. This will also enable the Web and Design Team to output alternative channels of content, one of which will be specifically intended to maximise accessibility beyond what has already been achieved.
The following gives an account of the accessibility features of the present site that should prove useful:
The new University of East London website should interact well with screenreaders.
When viewed without presentational styling the content and functional elements of each page appear in a logical linear order with extended use of titles and descriptions, that are not normally visible, to clarify their purpose. This view will be possible to achieve in some web browsers or with the help of assistive technologies. It is UEL’s intention to output a plain version of the site that operates like this as an alternative view, once its Enterprise Content Management System is in place. Meanwhile screenreaders should recognise the page in this context. The meaningful content comes first, for example:
In the new part of our site, links at the top each page allow direct access to its essential features and may be operated by access keys, as follows:
Access keys are activated by doing one of the following (depending on what computer or browser you are using, then pressing the named key:
On older parts of the site: Typically a screenreader will encounter the page's most significant content first. The search facility and navigation menus will be found next and then links to this page for screenreader users and other general information will follow. The page's decorative images will be listed last and although these may sometimes offer some short-cut links, they are not essential to the use or understanding of the page and can safely be ignored. Images within the page content are obviously relevant to it, but are unlikely to be essential either. If they are then further information should be offered. Descriptions, comments and titles are also provided within the pages to assist with their interpretation.
There are some anticipated limitations on the accessibility of our site:
We try to publish all our text content as accessible mark-up (XHTML / HTML) rather than in other formats such as PDF (Adobe’s Portable Document Format) or Microsoft Word documents. Where the Web and Design Team publish as PDFs, or in other formats, either it will be redundant content that adds value in a particular context, meaning that the information is available somewhere else on the site in an accessible form, or we make them as accessible as we can. However, that may not always be the case where the content provision is from other sources. Overcoming this is an ongoing activity.
The use of Flash, videos and interactive multimedia, is typically used to enrich the user-experience. Again the approach is usually to add value to otherwise accessible content, so that alternative ways of finding the information are available to those that cannot access it in that form. A specific example of this is the interactive maps, which are built in Flash. These present information about our Docklands and Stratford campuses and show us in relation to London. In fact very similar information is available as text on our campus pages in the Welcome to UEL part of the site, in the Student Life section of the site and externally on the Disabled Go web pages that we link to.
The swapping of style-sheets for alternative views that improve the ease of access to the pages for particular groups of disabled users is something that was previously a feature of our site. We are currently in a transitional position having created a new, in many respects much improved version, but this has not yet had alternative styles added to it. We intend to do this as part of the implementation of our Enterprise Content Management System, which will make the process easier and will allow a further iteration that is even more accessible in practice to be generated.
Forms are sometimes difficult to make accessible, though the Web and Design Team do put significant effort into this. Problems may arise, however, where they are generated by third party software as part of a system that the university uses, but did not create. In such circumstances we intervene as much as possible to improve the situation.
The University of East London’s Web and Design Team has tried to anticipate the individual needs of many disabled users, but will not have resolved every issue. If you encounter difficulties when using this web site please provide feedback to help us improve it, saying what the problem was and ideally, which page was involved (giving its URL if possible), by using this link to email us: the Web and Design Team firstname.lastname@example.org
1st July 2013