Kevin McClain, Chair, Web Accessibility Coordinator Group
August 11, 2006
During the first academic year since the formation of the Web Accessibility Coordinator Group, the University has seen a significant increase in the accessibility of its Web presence. This change can be attributed to training and awareness efforts, as well as the implementation of tools and procedures designed to assist in the maintenance of an accessible Web presence. The Web Oversight Committee (WOC) mandated August 1 as the deadline for Unit Web Site Requirements (USWR) compliance, which includes web accessibility. Divisions have initiated change and have achieved various degrees of results. Across the University, similar challenges exist—the need for a standardized assessment methodology, increased vendor compliance and the development of a culture of Web Excellence.
The purpose of this report is to document UNCG's Web accessibility efforts for the academic year 2005-2006. The report is comprised of four major sections:
On July 18, 2005, the Chancellor approved the Web Accessibility Policy (WAP). The Policy details the University's commitment to compliance with Federal and State laws regarding accessibility of information technology resources, specifically UNCG Web sites.
The Web Accessibility Policy establishes implementation and enforcement procedures, focused on divisional Web Accessibility Coordinators (WACs).
Section IV.a. of the Web Accessibility Policy states, in part:
Each of the University's five divisions will designate an individual responsible for implementation and enforcement in that division.
The following individuals were selected by their division to serve:
|Student Affairs||Kevin McClain
Web and Technology Coordinator
|Information Technology Services||Todd Sutton
Interim Assistant Vice Chancellor, Application Services
|Academic Affairs||Jennifer Rauch
Office of the Provost
|Business Affairs||Chris Burnett
Financial Systems Support
|Intercollegiate Athletics||Mike Hirschman
This list of divisional representatives resides with the Office of Disability Services. Any Web accessibility issues brought to the attention of Disability Services is forwarded to the appropriate Web Accessibility Coordinator.
Section IV.b. of the Web Accessibility Policy states, in part:
to ensure campus-wide consistency in the application of the criteria, the divisional representatives should meet as a group periodically and at least once each year. The representatives should select one of their number to organize, facilitate and coordinate those meetings.
The first meeting of the Web Accessibility Coordinators (WACs) was held on August 2, 2005. At this initial meeting, the coordinators unanimously elected Kevin McClain as Chairperson. A corporate decision was made to meet quarterly and to use the meetings as an opportunity for knowledge transfer regarding Web accessibility issues arising within our represented areas.
In subsequent meetings, the WACs discussed several issues, including:
The WACs also created a Web site which lists the names of individual WACs, their divisions and their contact information. In addition, the site hosts the Web Accessibility Guidelines and Tools, originally authored by Richard Cox, Library Webmaster, acting in his capacity as Co-chair of the Web3 Projects Team.
Three of the six Web Accessibility Coordinators (WACs) serve on the Web3 Project Team (serving the Web Oversight Committee). A partnership between the groups for Web accessibility training and awareness efforts was encouraged. At the quarterly meetings, Web Accessibility Coordinators were updated on the Web3 Project Team efforts and were encouraged to participate in these efforts, and to promote involvement among members of their division.
In July 2005, The Web3 Project Team launched a dynamic templating tool called the Web3 Wrapper System ("Wrapper"). The Wrapper provides a Web page header and footer, in compliance with the University Unit Web site Requirements Identity and Programming Standards (UWSR), and exceeds UNCG's minimum requirements for Web accessibility. However, the Wrapper does not guarantee accessibility. Unit Web site maintainers using the Wrapper must still ensure the accessibility of Web site content. The Wrapper was actively marketed to University Web site maintainers as a tool to achieve Web accessibility. WACs were encouraged to promote the use of the Wrapper and to become knowledgeable in its benefits and limitations. The Wrapper is employed by Academic, Business and Student Affairs. Similar systems were deployed by ITS and University Advancement.
During 2005—2006, the University's Web development community, historically known as WD40, was reorganized as the University Web Developers Group (UWDG). UWDG is chaired by the Web3 Project Team. UWDG is open to any member of the University community interested in Web development or having responsibility for any component of UNCG's Web presence. The University Web Developers Group has a Web site, as well as a Blackboard presence and listserv.
On November 15, 2005, a UWDG Kickoff event was held. The event included a presentation of the groups and policies governing UNCG's Web presence. Over 75 individuals attended the event. In addition, a survey, developed by Web3 member, Rob Owens, was conducted regarding Web accessibility issues.
Starting in the fall of 2005, UWDG offered two educational events a month. Workshops, which were instructor-led examinations of Web development practices or tools, were typically scheduled for the first Friday of each month and Roundtables, which facilitated community discussion, were typically held the third Tuesday of each month.
A conscious effort was made to address and emphasize Web accessibility issues during workshops. Workshop topics included:
Average attendance at workshops was between 15 and 25 individuals. As of July 2006, nearly one hundred University members have participated in some UWDG activity.
In addition, the Web3 Project Team developed and deployed a Web3 Certification Program. The goal of the program is to better equip University members to develop Web content with an understanding of UNCG's policies, standards, and Web development environment.
The first level of the program, the Unit Maintainer course, was launched in the fall of 2005. Designed to train entry-level Web developers to comply with the University's Unit Web Site Requirements, including Web accessibility, the program is comprised of two online training courses, offered by the ITS technical training vendor, ElementK, and four hands-on courses, developed and delivered by Web3 Project Team members. The program includes a final examination where the learner must demonstrate his or her ability to update a unit Web site, and modify the site so that it adheres to the Unit Web Site Requirements. The program was actively marketed to the University Web Developers Group.
Over 75 individuals have taken at least one hands-on course.
Over 20 individuals have completed all six courses.
Over 20 individuals have taken the Final Exam.
As part of the report, each Web Accessibility Coordinator submitted a summary of the improvements and challenges faced by their division.
During 2005—2006 great effort has been made to standardize the Web presence of Student Affairs, according to the Unit Web Site Requirements (UWSR), including increasing the level of accessibility. The Student Affairs Web presence consists of roughly fifty units (a department, program or service point) and is comprised of over 1,200 pages.
Standardization was assisted by the Web3 Wrapper System. This system greatly enhanced the ability of Student Affairs units to comply. Currently, all Web development done by Student Affairs staff utilizes the Web3 Wrapper System. Each department within Student Affairs has a designated maintainer. Maintainers have direct access to the division's Web and Technology Coordinator for one-on-one training and support. Maintainers are taught to incorporate accessibility testing in their development processes. In addition, departmental Web site maintainers are encouraged to be active in the University Web Developers Group (UWDG) and to complete the Web3 Certification Program.
One of the highlights of the year was the successful implementation of accessible streaming video by the Office for Adult Students. Staff member Dan Kuoni filmed and edited nearly a dozen short videos (30 seconds to a few minutes) in which adult students gave advice to their peers regarding various UNCG services. The videos were posted on the ITS streaming video server and linked to the Office for Adult Student Web site. In order to be accessible, Dan created transcripts of the videos and created the files need to deliver the transcripts in a synchronized manner. We believe this to be the first fully accessible streaming media available at UNCG.
Challenges encountered by the Division of Student Affairs included the lack of automated Web accessibility assessment tools. No process exists to traverse the entire divisional Web presence efficiently. Web accessibility auditing was done at random. Errors, if stumbled upon, were addressed with maintainers. An additional challenge is the accessibility of vendor-supplied Web applications. There is great disparity in understanding of Web accessibility among vendors. Efforts continue to be made to modify Web applications to meet UNCG standards and/or work with vendors to improve their products.
As the division leadership seeks to increase the services it offers students by way of the Web, they become increasingly aware of the need for investment in technology resources in order to succeed at developing and maintaining a highly accessible Web presence.
The 2005—2006 year has been marked by a significant focus within Information Technology Services (ITS) on Web accessibility and usability. There has also been an organizational recognition and commitment towards utilizing the Web to further provide excellent customer service.
To accomplish this goal, a major project was undertaken by ITS to integrate information from all of the previous stand-alone ITS unit Web sites into a unified, clearly branded and easy to navigate site. At the same time, the project team began implementing a development process that brought all current pages as well as any newly developed ITS Web pages into compliance with the Unit Web Site Requirements (UWSR), including the UNCG look and feel and Web accessibility.
The team developed templates for use on the Windows Web server based on the Web3 Wrapper System. Then, a team member met with each ITS unit and functional area leader to determine whether current pages in their Web space needed to be transitioned into the new site or archived and removed from the server.
Another major deliverable of this project was to develop a new system by which the ITS Web site would be maintained and developed. A process has been created which identifies "content providers" from each of the functional areas of ITS which will be responsible for the overall health and timeliness of content on pages that they are assigned. These content providers would provide updates, new content, etc. to a small group of "content publishers" which have access to actually approve and make changes to the ITS site. This system was developed in an effort to increase organizational distribution of ownership and accountability for site content while at the same time decreasing the number of people with the access and ability to modify the site. This will provide a greater ability to manage content and track changes. It will also assure that staff publishing content to the Web, will have been adequately trained on issues such as UWSR compliance as well as ADA compliance.
The team also developed a Web style guide for use by ITS and is currently developing a training and implementation plan for its use among ITS content providers.
Additionally, the project team developed a new Web site for Event Planning, and brought the Chancellor's Web site into compliance with the UWSR and the Web Accessibility Policy (WAP).
As of August 2006, the project team will have moved approximately 3,000 pages to the new Web site, and edited each page to ensure compliance with the UWSR, the WAP, and the ITS Web style guide. At that time, all ITS created and maintained public Web pages will be fully compliant. ITS also employs the use of several vendor-purchased Web applications which meet varying levels of WAP compliance. This is an issue which faces every division of the University and is being addressed on a University-wide basis.
Prior to and during the fall of 2005, David Rivera, the Web Manager in University Relations and the University Advancement Web Accessibility Coordinator, made significant efforts to acquire knowledge on accessibility. With his departure from University Relations in early 2006, Miriam Barkley, Director, Web Communications, took the Web Accessibility Coordinator position on an interim basis. In the search for a new Web Manager, particular attention was given to candidates who had at least minimal knowledge and experience in accessibility matters.
Although the division chose not to employ the Web3 Wrapper, the Web Manager worked diligently to ensure that top-tier pages were accessible. The University's home page, www.uncg.edu, passes validation through the W3C Markup Validation Service and the HiSoftware CynthiaSays Web content accessibility tester for both Section 508 and WCAG Priority 1 requirements.
There are other sites, such as the Events Calendar (calendar.uncg.edu) and the 2D Interactive Maps (http://www.uncg.edu/online_map/), that fail accessibility tests. Sites of this sort were developed prior to the accessibility initiative and/or with an external vendor. University Advancement Web site maintainers are interested in gaining more knowledge, especially in applying appropriate metrics for Web accessibility evaluation.
The new Web Manager, Paige Ellis, came on board July 31, 2006. She has already begun to take on duties of the UA Web Accessibility Coordinator.
Following the approval of the Web Accessibility Policy in July 2005, Academic Affairs initiated a division-wide assessment of the accessibility of its Web sites. Unit heads were asked to develop a plan for bringing their sites into compliance with the new policy. Each dean and associate provost designated a person(s) within their units and/or outside consultants to address the accessibility of unit Web sites. In October 2005, all Web managers in Academic Affairs were notified of the new Web accessibility requirements and were given information on the "Wrapper System" designed by the Web3 Project Team. They were also given information on the development of the Web3 Certification Program and were provided with the contact information for the divisional Web Accessibility Coordinator.
Currently, the status of accessibility varies widely among the divisional units because the models for maintaining Web sites differ greatly among the units. Some units, such as Enrollment Services and the Library, have professional unit Web developers dedicated full-time to developing Web content and, therefore, have a high level of accessibility even though their sites contain complicated, dynamic Web content, such as the online applications in the Library and in Undergraduate Admissions. Other units, such as the School of Human Environmental Sciences, do not have full-time dedicated Web developers and do not have the budget to outsource Web development and have therefore made some progress on accessibility, but are still far behind. Many units rely on the Electronic Resources and Information Technology (ERIT) staff in the Jackson Library for Web development support because there is great expertise on Web accessibility within the ERIT staff, but they are over committed and are not able at present to devote as much time to assisting the academic units as would be necessary to bring them all into compliance. A few units in Academic Affairs rely on the unit Instructional Technology Coordinators (ITCs) for Web management, but not all the ITCs have the skills set to provide this service. Despite the disparity among the units, however, a slim majority will have brought their sites into compliance by the start of the Fall 2006 term.
The main challenge in Academic Affairs is that many departments do not have the budget for hiring a dedicated Web developer. In such cases, administrative personnel are usually given the task of maintaining the unit Web sites, but do not have the skills set to maintain an accessible Web site. The Web Certification Program has helped tremendously to train such Web managers, but many still find that it is difficult to fit such training into their already busy schedules and some do not have the support from their supervisors to make this training a priority. Units in Academic Affairs have also faced challenges with the level of accessibility in vendor products. In the Library, for example, a vendor database acquired for faculty and student research did not meet UNCG's accessibility standards and the ERIT staff assisted University Counsel in negotiating the accessibility of the final product.
During the past year, Auxiliary Services, Business Services, Facilities, Human Resource Services, and Public Safety & Police have adopted the new Web wrapper system in accordance with new University Web guidelines. In addition, HRS has added a method for online testing of Supervisor's course attendees, and Business Services has hosted the official Banner Finance Web site. Due to the two year Banner FR project, Financial Services has yet to convert its Web site to the new UNCG layout. Considering current workload, this should be completed by January 2007.
At the July 13 meeting of the Web Oversight Committee, ICA requested and received an exemption from the UNCG Unit Web Site Requirements (UWSR). While requesting this variance, ICA also addressed concerns with the accessibility of UNCGSpartans.com.
ICA has had extensive discussions with its corporate partners, XOS Networks (which supplies the materials for UNCGSpartans.com) and TeamFanShop (which is an associated partner and supplies materials for the Spartan Store). Verbiage for both contracts with the respective partners contains specific language to address accessibility which was written by University counsel, making the parties responsible to adhere to University guidelines. UNCG has also been working with XOS to make continuous improvements to UNCGSpartans.com in the field of accessibility. Changes made in the last six months include:
In addition, ICA staff members and representatives of XOS have begun discussions to make accessibility presentations at the 2007 College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) National Convention in San Diego to make a greater awareness in the athletic community. XOS is the first external Web provider to begin addressing such concerns in the field of College Athletics. This push has come because of three specific institutions demanding the issue be addressed-UNCG being one of those schools.
Certainly, ICA does not claim to be fully compliant as this issue is constantly evolving at this time. However, we do believe that UNCGSpartans.com is further ahead in the realm of accessibility than 90 percent of the "dot-com" college athletic Web sites currently being published.
The Web Accessibility Coordinators will continue to pursue a university-wide Web accessibility assessment standard. There are two great difficulties in standardizing the assessment of Web accessibility—Subjectivity and Scope.
Currently, there is a significant degree of subjectivity in assessment methodology. While some elements of Web accessibility are purely objective and can be evaluated with an automated software tool, others are not. These elements require human inspection and judgment calls. While guidelines are helpful, an increase in standardization, which will lead to an increase in automation, is needed. Scope is another aspect that creates difficulties. Currently, the scope of Web accessibility assessment is one Web "page." Organizations with significant Web presences, like UNCG, have a huge task ahead of them if they are to monitor their degree of accessibility. More importantly, as UNCG makes technical strides and Web sites become more dynamic, the notion of a "Web page" is blurred. Rather, Web sites are comprised of content components, which are dynamically assembled per unique user, resulting in a multitude of different configurations. Comprehensive testing of Web accessibility then becomes increasingly difficult. This is not a problem unique to UNCG. Other organizations are doing research and experimenting with algorithms that would allow random testing of pages to extrapolate the degree of Web accessibility for an entire site. The Web Accessibility Barrier Method (WAB Score), of which some very preliminary researching and testing has been done at UNCG, appears the most promising.
A major hurdle to Web accessibility at UNCG is the lack of accessibility of vendor products. Many products, by major market leaders, are grossly inadequate in their compliance with Web accessibility standards. Many departments that wish to implement a new service are faced with significant delays due to needed accessibility modifications to vendor products. Departments often proceed into contracts with promises of improvement from the vendor. However, very often, such promises are not fulfilled. Progress has been made on this issue with some departments now being more precise in their contracts, delaying deployment until accessibility is proven, and in some cases, unit Web developers providing direct assistance to vendors in meeting accessibility standards.
This situation has been challenging for WACs and unit Web site developers, who typically find themselves in the difficult position of recommending against the purchase of products that departments see as necessary and useful. Unfortunately, this issue will continue to exist until a significant portion of the market better understands and demands Web products containing a high degree of Web accessibility. Until then, WACs must continue their efforts to educate the University community and advocate for adherence to UNCG's Web accessibility policy related to the purchase of IT products.
The Web Oversight Committee (WOC) and the UWDG campaigned heavily this year to promote a culture of Web Excellence at UNCG. In the past, each unit independently created and maintained their Web sites without consideration of a consistent look to UNCG's Web presence, accessibility, or usability. The Web Oversight Committee recently developed Unit Web Site Requirements which set very specific programming and identity standards for all UNCG Web sites, including Web accessibility. The Web Oversight Committee set a deadline of August 1, 2006, for compliance with these requirements by all UNCG units. While the University Web development community has made great strides toward complying with these requirements, there are still many challenges that lie ahead. Many department heads and even Web site maintainers enter into Web projects with their own goals and objectives, which typically do not include achieving a minimum level, let alone a high degree, of Web accessibility. Resources are not currently allocated to develop the technical skills and provide the time needed to conduct standardized Web development and maintenance. Quality assurance processes and procedures are not always a high priority and the historical lack of policy enforcement regarding UNCG's Web presence has created a culture of presumed independence.
The future work of the Web Accessibility Coordinators will include fostering respect for policies and willing submission to the requirements. Reinforcing the University's commitment to Web accessibility, as a key component of Web Excellence, will continue to be the Web Accessibility Coordinators' chief directive.