Interdepartmental Group Highlights Digital Accessibility at WashU

On Thursday, May 17th, WashU IT and the WashU community at large celebrated the seventh annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). We want to mark this occasion by telling you about WashU IT’s partnership with other departments to develop practices that ensure we build accessibility into our tools and services.

To develop strategies for becoming a more accessible institution, university leadership commissioned the WashU Web Accessibility Users Group to “share knowledge about standards and best practices for creating and supporting web-based content that’s accessible to people with disabilities and those using assistive technologies.”

The group is co-chaired by Pat Kogos from WashU IT and William Emery from Public Affairs and is open to all faculty and staff who want to play a role in making a more digitally accessible WashU. Kogos says it’s a, “collaborative group, open to anyone in the university community who would like to participate and share their knowledge about this important topic.” When talking about the primary objectives of the group, Kogos says, “We want to create a community within WashU where we can share knowledge and best practices about digital accessibility.”

During the group’s short tenure, they have hosted a number of presentations about generating accessible content in WordPress, using tools for evaluating the accessibility of our web presence, and developing strategies for making accessible video content. In addition, the group hosted a live demonstration of how our sites appear with the assistance of screen-reader software. The screen-reader demonstration, conducted by representatives of the St. Louis-based accessibility resource Paraquad, highlighted the difficulty that someone with a sight impairment might face when navigating the WashU system of websites. Beginning with the homepage, the presentation revealed that our dynamic content requires careful and thoughtful implementation to ensure that our site is accessible to everyone.

According to Kogos, Global Accessibility Awareness Day provided an excellent opportunity to highlight what’s happening in our region regarding accessibility while supporting our friends at Paraquad. She says, “It would be great to encourage our community to visit the new Bloom Café on Oakland. It’s a wonderful café run by Paraquad, a local nonprofit agency that empowers people with disabilities. At Bloom Café, they train people with disabilities to work in the restaurant industry. A visit there is both delicious and inspirational, and it’s close to WashU.”

If you’d like to learn more about accessibility at WashU, click here, and if you would like to get involved with accessibility initiatives, you can find more information here.