Creating Accessible Online Information

April, 2005

Boston-IA held a joint meeting on April 27, 2005 with the Boston Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication (STC) and the Chapter's AccessAbility special interest group (SIG) (Part 1 of 4).

This article is divided into the following sections:

  • Part 1: Introduction
  • Part 2: Barbara Casaly: Learning About Accessibility
  • Part 3: P.J. Gardner: Accessibility and the Web
  • Part 4: Judy Kessler: Accessibility in Documentation

This article is also published in PDF format in the Boston Broadside, newsletter of the Boston Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication (STC).

Back to top

Topic: "Creating Accessible Online Information:
Real-World Solutions"

Date: April 27, 2005

Panel: Barbara Casaly, P.J. Gardner, and Judy Kessler

Moderator: Lori Gillen

Sheraton Lexington Inn
Lexington, Massachusetts

Back to top

Three Speakers: Three Experiences

This article describes the April 27 program co-hosted by the STC-Boston Chapter and Boston-IA. The STC-Boston Chapter offers monthly programs, September through May, at the Sheraton Lexington. Programs start about 6 PM and end about 9 PM.

Lori Gillen, Chair of the local chapter of the AccessAbility SIG, introduced the speakers: Barbara Casaly, P.J. Gardner, and Judy Kessler. Each speaker has different experience with accessibility.

Barbara admitted that before joining an accessibility project at, she knew little about accessibility, and therefore, she assigned herself the task of learning more. As a speaker, she shared her learning experiences.

P.J., a long-time documentation professional, has over the last few years refocused her career towards Web design and accessibility. P.J. earned a graduate certificate from Northeastern University in Interactive Web Design/Accessible Web Design and has focused on creating accessible Web sites in her consulting practice, GIDI, Inc.

Judy works as a documentation manager at Sybase. Her team, and, as she noted several times during her talk, her management, accepted the challenge of making some of Sybase's documentation more accessible.

Back to top

Becoming Aware of Accessibility

Do you need to officially worry about Section 508 standards?— Probably not. The accessibility standards are just that, standards, not compliance requirements. Unless you have a government contract, you may not be required to meet accessibility standards. Will your management or clients be concerned?— Unfortunately, probably not. Will your management or clients want to spend the extra money to become compliant with Section 508 standards?— Not very likely.

Doubtful that you will be funded to handle an accessibility conversion, but being aware allows you to bring your knowledge and concern to your tasks and your communication assignments. This article, as did the April 27 presentation on accessibility by Barbara Casaly, P.J. Gardner, and Judy Kessler, intends to heighten your awareness of accessibility issues, and what you can be doing to make yourself, Web sites, and documentation more accessible to people with disabilities.

Back to top

Not All is Visual

Our moderator, Lori Gillen, distributed a one-page handout, which contained basic information that all of us would quickly see and understand: an arrival and departure schedule for the Boston to Framingham train line. The first exhibit is the schedule structured in table format conveniently listing arrival and departure times in two columns.

Train Schedule
Arrivals Departures
Framingham 7:22 am Back Bay 5:10 pm
Newton 7:50 am Newton 5:22 pm
Back Bay 8:02 am Framingham 5:50 pm

With a bit of examination, I suspect that we could figure out that if we are commuting from Framingham to Boston, we could catch the 7:22 and be at work by 8:30. Returning, we could catch the 5:10 and be in Framingham by 6:00 to pick up the dry cleaning.

Give yourself a challenge: read this table from row one to row five (first row to last row) reading each row from left to right before proceeding to the next row. Listen to yourself.

Could you review the budget meeting with your coworker who boards in Newton? What time would you expect to see your coworker? If you read the fourth row left to right, you read, "Newton 7:50 am Newton 5:22 pm." If you've forgotten which of the two entries are arrivals or departures, the line sounds more confusing.

Most information is created for a visual world. Lacking visual capabilities greatly increases the problem of perceiving and understanding. If the visually impaired person visits the MBTA Web site and uses a voice-synthesizing program like JAWS from Freedom Scientific, JAWS will read and speak the content from left to right, first line (or first row) to last line (or last row).

I redraw the table by reducing columns and increasing rows. Read the rows left to right, first to last. Note that you will be able to better understand where from, and when, the arrivals and departures occur. The shorter phrases are easier to remember, and therefore, the listener has a better chance of remembering when the train will arrive and depart from Newton.

Train Schedule
Framingham 7:22 am
Newton 7:50 am
Back Bay 8:02 am
Back Bay 5:10 pm
Newton 5:22 pm
Framingham 5:50 pm

Continue to Part 2

Back to top