‘S.I.F.T. Through Your Content for Accessibility’

This Red Stapler winner for best in the UAD track by Justin Gatewood of Victor Valley College offers a simplified approach to the complicated — but very necessary — topic of accessibility for the web. In “S.I.F.T. Through Your Content for Accessibility,” Gatewood noted the acronym stands for Structure, Images, Forms and Tables.

Being in Memphis, he noted the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike in 1968 by people of color who could not get access to the rights they deserved and asked Martin Luther King Jr. for assistance — which they marched to achieve after MLK’s assassination. On a different scale, we should help others access the opportunities of higher education by breaking down barriers to accessibility.

Pay attention to things like headings and structure, visible focus, alternative text, and color and contrast (Gatewood himself has red-green color-blindness which kept him from earning an Air Force scholarship), skip links, keyboard traps in forms, carousels and slideshows, forms, captcha and tables. Nearly 57 million people in the U.S. have some kind of disability, with 12.4 million actively needing assistance.

He sites Thorin’s Map in “The Hobbit” as an example of a document that needed expert assistance to make it usable.

He mentioned OmniUpdate’s OU Campus and SiteImprove as automated evaluation tools that check for accessibility in content for the web, although Section508.gov still wants humans to test sites. S.I.F.T. takes the most important of the 208 accessibility requirements by the government.

For structure, he suggests using headings properly in your code, using lists in your code, setting the language, testing with a keyboard alone, giving descriptive link text (no “click here”), using skip links which jump the user down to an anchor or target in the body of the main content and testing enlarging the page content.

For images, Gatewood discussed using alternative text to provide context and function, providing an empty alt tag for content that is decorative only which will let screen readers skip the tag, limiting animation plus allowing people to hide or pause it, using consistent icons that are well-designed and easy to understand, providing alternative ways to identify differences not dependent on color plus having sufficient text-background contrast, avoiding flashing images and media, and supplying captions and transcripts for multimedia content.

For forms, he said we should provide label attributes for every form field, use fieldset and legend tags and test with keyboard alone.

With tables, Gatewood suggests using caption tags with brief descriptions of what are in the tables, providing context for what is in any box, using proportional sizing and scope, not using spanned or multi-level header cells, and avoiding summary attributes.

He quoted Stephen Hawking: “However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at, it matters that you don’t give up.” You may have outstanding people in your community — like Hawking — for whom accessibility will help them achieve great things. Gatewood helpfully provided many free tools and resources which are included in the online version of his presentation.