Web accessibility group helps make Penn State more inclusive

There’s no doubt the Internet has transformed the way we live, communicate and find information. From breaking news to bus schedules, the data is just clicks away. But, for people with disabilities, especially those who are visually impaired, browsing the Web is a little trickier.

Technologies such as screen readers, developed to assist people with limited sight navigate the internet, are only useful if the web page has been designed, developed and coded to cinque with them. Screen readers take the content from a website and read it to the user through text-to-talk technology. If there is visual content or interactive forms, code must be added so the reader can interpret the information.

That’s why Penn State University (PSU) created the “ATeam,” an IT Accessibility Team with a mandate to work with people and departments across the University to help test and redesign websites and other content for accessibility, ultimately making the university more inclusive. Elizabeth Pyatt, an instructional designer in the program says it is easier to make something accessible before anything is published.  Much like in the construction industry, it is easier and cheaper to plan a building with elevators and ramps to assist people with disabilities before building begins, rather than renovate one which has already been built. So far, the ATeam has responded to more than 100 consulting requests and helped ensure major University systems are accessible.

Michelle McManus is a consultant who is visually impaired and along with three other colleagues, sift through PSU’s websites and documents checking for problems.“I go through and make sure the content in navigable, things are labeled and coded correctly, and that the alt text makes sense,” said McManus. The “ATeam” is also working with faculty to help them produce Power Point presentations and PDFs which are also accessible to all students. Christian Vinten-Johansen, manager of the IT Accessibility Team at PSU, encourages everyone to reach out to his group with questions regarding accessibility, “We want everyone to know that whether they have a question about accessibility or want us to help them with a website or purchasing decision, we’re here to help.”

 For more information about web accessibility at Penn State University, check out the article here.