On Web Usability

by Kristen Abell

Lately, I’ve been digging into the book Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug (if you’re tempted to read it, I’m going to suggest you read his updated version – we just had this one at work, so that’s what I’m reading). I often talk with my clients about the end user experience on a website – something we all too often forget to consider when we’re planning a redesign or new website. We think about how we want it to function without thought for how the end user will want it to function. This book is a great reminder that the end user is always who we should be thinking of when planning. A few takeaways from this book:

  • Usability testing – Do it and do it often. This is usually the first step to get cut from our website development process, but after reading this book, I know I’ll fight harder to keep it a part of the process in the future. It usually doesn’t take much time, and we always learn something from it – even if it’s that there is no “typical” user. I especially loved the idea Krug presented about pre-testing – having users test websites you’re looking at for inspiration to see what works and what doesn’t.
  • Accessibility – Do it because it’s the right thing. To be fair, I’ve been trying to work on accessibility on most of my sites for awhile now, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been doing the minimum. This book makes me want to do more than that. I suspect I’ll be digging into some reads and training on accessibility next so I can take this further on my sites.
  • Good design does not always equal good usability – Not that I didn’t sorta already know this, but this clarified it a bit better for me. For example, one of the current trends in design is to make links as unobtrusive as possible. However, that means that a user has to work harder to find these links – which means they are more likely to get frustrated. Even looking at my personal blog, I’m frustrated by the fact that the links are barely noticeable compared to the regular text (will be making changes there soon). This means that when we’re designing websites, we may have to compromise on our aesthetic to make a site more user-friendly.

After reading this book, I’m looking forward to digging into Krug’s other book – Rocket Surgery Made Easy which delves a little deeper into usability, as well as putting some of his thoughts and approaches into practice.

What are your usability tips and tricks? How do you approach usability when building a new site?

On Web Usability

5 Ways to Involve Students in Accessibility Efforts

By Rachel Luna

Accessibility is a team sport, and students are great teammates to recruit.  Involving students in efforts to increase accessibility is a win-win solution.  First, everyone wins when campus environments are more accessible.  In addition, bringing students into the process can provide robust learning opportunities for all involved by increasing awareness of accessibility issues and gaining enhanced technical knowledge.  Not to mention, there are potential psychosocial benefits for students particularly in regards to developing self-efficacy, advocacy, and leadership skills.  Here are a few ideas for involving students in your campus accessibility efforts:

  1. Solicit Feedback – Are you updating your website, creating campus accessibility guidelines (see this example at University of Wisconsin, Madison), or considering a new software vendor?  Invite students with disabilities to beta test and provide feedback on your websites, applications, and projects.
  2. Program with Student Organizations – Does your campus have a student organization regarding disabilities (such as Student Awareness for Disability Empowerment at Cal State Monterey Bay)?  What about one for STEM majors?  Perhaps the groups could collaborate on a program featuring demonstrations of assistive technology available on your campus.
  3. Teach Student Staff – Do you have students who produce marketing materials or web content?  Train them on principles of universal design in education and encourage them incorporate the new concepts into their work.  Or, have them explore on their own and present what they learned during a staff meeting.
  4. Collaborate in the Classroom – Does your institution have computer science or programming classes?  Connect with a faculty member and suggest captioning videos as a class project.  You could provide campus videos that have yet to be captioned and students could have hands-on learning of these technical skills in a social justice context by working with content that is relevant to their community.
  5. Provide Student Employment or Volunteer Opportunities – What accessibility services or programs are provided by your campus?  Students can often be hired as notetakers, cart drivers, or other assistive aides.  Technology peer mentors (like the ones at Portland Community College) can teach fellow students how to effectively use computers and technology.

What are ways you involve students in efforts to make your campus more accessible and inclusive?  Comment below or tweet me with your experiences and ideas!

Special shout outs to Kathryn Magura (@Kmagura), Gregg Wandsneider (@blindfaith21), rita zhang (@12itazhang), Amy Jorgensen (@AmyLJorgensen), and Kaela Parks (@KaelaParks) for engaging in discussions with me to inspire this post and introduce some of the examples.

5 Ways to Involve Students in Accessibility Efforts

Highlight an App – Easy Chirp

by Rachel Luna

There are myriad Twitter applications out there (e.g., TweetCaster, Echofon, HootSuite,etc.), and each has it’s own spin on how social media is consumed.  For today’s Highlight An App post, I’m turning the spotlight on Easy Chirp, a Twitter application focused on accessibility for people with disabilities.

Formerly known as Accessible Twitter, Easy Chirp is described as “web-accessible alternative to the Twitter.com website.”  The look, feel, and function of this app is optimized for compatibility with assistive technology, such as keyboard-only navigation and screen readers.  In a nod to universal design principles, these structures and systems are not only helpful to folks with disabilities; they also make Twitter more accessible to people using older web browsers, slower Internet connection speeds, and those who do not use JavaScript.  At first glance, it may seem to lack the bells and whistles of Twitter, such as favoriting a tweet or viewing replies as conversations, but rest assured all the functions are there.

In honor of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), which just passed on May 15, the folks at Easy Chirp unveiled a new feature that I think is a potential game-changer: the ability to add accessible images to tweets by including alternative text.  Alt text is particularly helpful for people who have visual disabilities or are otherwise unable to view the image you’ve uploaded.


I tried out the new feature and found the process simple and intuitive (check out my tweet about yummy cupcakes).  The accessible image is presented on a clean page with my image and chosen description.  To be fair, there are some limitations to posting images with this method, some of which are described on the Easy Chirp image help page.  The biggest issue for me is that the image is not uploaded to Twitter directly, which means it shows up in tweets as a link instead of an image.  This also means images don’t preview in tweets nor do they become part of Twitter media feeds.  Despite these drawbacks, this is a cool feature and an important step toward more web accessibility for all users.

I encourage you to explore the Easy Chirp app and try creating your own tweet with an accessible image.  Here’s the process, as described by WebAxe:

  1. Log in to Easy Chirp with your Twitter account.
  2. Select Write Tweet.
  3. Select Add Image.
  4. Select an image from your device.
  5. Enter a title of the image (short description).
  6. If necessary, enter a long description of the image.
  7. Click the Upload Image button. A URL will be inserted in the tweet input (text area).
  8. Finish writing the tweet and click the Post button.
  9. Happiness!

Share your adventures in accessibility by posting your tweets in the comments or tweeting at me @RachelHLuna.  I’m excited to see (and read) your accessible images!

Highlight an App – Easy Chirp

Linkage Love (Late)

by Kristen Abell

University Websites Venn
from xkcd – http://xkcd.com/773/

Tis the season in our division to start re-designing websites. And since I generally play an integral part in this process, I’ve been brushing up on my website standards (okay, not really – I pretty much have what I look for in a good website design memorized at this point, but it makes for a better post if I’ve been “brushing up.” Or something.), and I thought I’d share some great resources with other folks looking at web design – either from the design point of view or the client point of view.

And let’s just be clear – if you have a crappy website as a client, it’s as much your fault as it is your designer. Know what you want/need, and make sure you get it. No one blames the web designer (except maybe you).

So, to start, here’s a brief list of ten standards to abide by when re-designing a website. No, copy would not be number one on my list, but it is important. Usability might be one of the top things I can recommend when looking at a website design. Too many people try to use all the bells and whistles or focus on design only. Let me break it down for you – if a student can’t use your website, it doesn’t matter what cool tools you have or how pretty it is – it’s just a bad website at that point.

And speaking of usability, here’s a list of accessibility guidelines for websites that defines some best practices when designing them.

For those who are web designers or will regularly be working on websites, I’m loving the site for A List Apart – lots of great resources and sections on everything from code to usability, from design and content to mobile applications. Seriously good stuff here, people.

If you’re brand new to website design, or websites in general, give Code Academy a try – it’s a fun, interactive way to learn coding. You’ll be learning code before you know it – I promise!

And finally, it can be hard to know what’s good without understanding what a bad page looks like. For this, I highly recommend a gander around Web Pages That Suck – where there is so much suck, I don’t even know where to start. Except with what I think might possibly be the worst web page of all time. I cannot guarantee you’ll ever want to open your eyes again after looking at this site. You have been warned.

So what web design resources do you use when designing or working on websites?

Linkage Love (Late)

Blogger’s Choice: PowerPoint, Etc.

By Anitra Cottledge

We all use PowerPoint, right? Is this just a lazy assumption? During the last few weeks, as I’ve been updating a PowerPoint presentation about the gender pay gap and salary negotiation tips and skills for women, I’ve also happened to have a lot of conversations about the effectiveness of PowerPoint, and some possible alternatives.

One of my colleagues is definitely pro-PowerPoint, and shared an article with me that she said “changed her life, at least in regards to PowerPoint!” From “No Bullets: Great Leaders Deliver High Impact Presentations:”

Many professors, executives, politicians and training “experts” are poor presenters; perpetuating bad presentation practices with unreadable charts, bulleted text, miniscule fonts, templates, clip art, flashy transitions, too many graphics, and unnecessary visual noise. Effective communication isn’t about clicking through text-laden slides: that’s data sharing (and just plain lazy). Engaging an audience, leaving a lasting impression, and moving people to action require purposeful training, hard work and practice.

True, it is difficult to balance the data sharing and engagement elements of presentations, particularly when reading the contents of each slide aloud in an effort to be accessible. If you’re tired of the usual text blah blah blah feeling of some PowerPoint presentations, you can try Pecha Kucha 20×20, “a simple presentation format where you show 20 images, each for 20 seconds. The images forward automatically and you talk along to the images.”

I haven’t tried PechaKucha, and also haven’t read anything about the accessibility of this particular presentation method, so I can’t offer any input about using it as an alternative to PowerPoint.

If neither PowerPoint nor PechaKucha work for you, maybe you should use art as an engagement tool instead. “Use dancers instead of PowerPoint,” says John Bohannon:

Bohannon also runs an international contest called Dance Your Ph.D. For those of you with a Ph.D., would it have been effective (and well-received) to turn your Ph.D. dissertation into a dance? I suppose it depends upon your discipline, your institution, your department and your committee.

Has anyone tried these or other methods of presenting information? What have you found to be effective and/or challenging?

Blogger’s Choice: PowerPoint, Etc.

Linkage Love: Accessibility Resources

by Kathryn Magura

Access to resources and the diversity of our campuses is a hot topic in higher education. One area that is often neglected is the accessibility of our campuses to students, visitors, and staff with disabilities. Some of our campuses are so old, making them accessible would require a lot of planning and significant financial resources. While it is absolutely the right thing to do, many of us do not know where to begin to make our campuses more accessible.

For my Linkage Love post today, I would like to share some resources I have found regarding many aspects of accessibility. These resources were developed on college campuses, and prove that when education leaders set their minds to it, we can make our campuses accessible for everyone.

ADA: Understanding the American’s with Disabilities Act can be a daunting task. The Staff at the Catholic University of America developed an ADA resource page with their general council that links to checklists for accessibility and case law that impacts institutions of higher education regarding accessibility. The resources provided here are expansive, and make understanding the intricacies and consequences of this law easier.

Seven Principles of Universal Design: Complying with the law is one thing. Ensuring the resources on your campus can be accessed by everyone who wishes to use them is something else entirely. Staff at North Carolina State University have been instrumental in developing what is known as the Seven Principles of Universal Design. Becoming familiar with the principles of universal design will help you gain an understanding of the functional needs of people with a myriad of physical disabilities. This video from Berkeley provides a visual example of the benefits of utilizing universal design elements in construction.

Web Accessibility Guidelines: The revisions to the ADA in 2010 included strict standards for creating accessible websites. For being such a progressive technology, the web is full of pages that are inaccessible. As we work towards making our websites more accessible, staff at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a resource guide to web accessibility. This guide is incredibly helpful for walking you through the steps of creating an accessible website, even if you are not an Information Technology professional.

These are some resources I have found immensely helpful as I have worked to create a more accessible university community. I hope they can benefit you as well.

Linkage Love: Accessibility Resources