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Accessibility of GRADE Project Website

The Georgia Tech Research on Accessible Distance Education (GRADE) website is designed to be aesthetically pleasing, useful, and most of all accessible to the widest audience possible. To achieve these goals, the the web site has undergone an extensive design and development process to meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG) and the Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards (Section 508). Both sets of guidelines explain how to make web content accessible to people with disabilities as well as beneficial to all users.

Methods Used in Website to Achieve Web Accessibility

To satisfy the WCAG and Section 508 web accessibility requirements, the GRADE website uses a variety of the following methods:

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

The WCAG was established by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Within the WCAG, there are three priority checkpoints:

Icon denoting W3C WAI-'Triple A', WCAG 1.0 conformance The GRADE website has Level "Triple-A" Conformance to the WCAG 1.0; all WCAG 1.0 Priority 1, 2, and 3 checkpoints are satisfied.

The WCAG 1.0 guidelines also define two major themes of accessible web design:

  1. Ensuring web content gracefully transforms regardless of constraints, such as work environment, technological barriers, and sensory, physical, or cognitive disability.
  2. Making web content understandable and navigable.

Section 508 Standards for Electronic and Information Technology

Section 508 was established through Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) of the U.S. Federal Government. The scope of Section 508 is limited to the Federal sector. It does not apply to the private sector, nor does it generally impose requirements on the recipients of Federal funds. However, States receiving assistance under the Assistive Technology Act (AT Act) State Grant program are required to comply with Section 508 according to the Department of Education, which administers the AT Act.

The Section 508 Standards define the types of technology provided and set forth provisions that establish a minimum level of accessibility within four subparts:

Within Section 508 Subpart B (Technical Standards), the provisions for Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications (1194.22) are specifically addressed in paragraphs (a) through (p). These sixteen provisions, which were based on the WCAG, must all be followed for a website to be in compliance with the Section 508 Standards.

Icon denoting 'Bobby 508 Approved', conformance to Section 508. The GRADE website is 508 Approved; all sixteen provisions are satisfied.

Logical and consistent navigation

The GRADE website provides logical and consistent navigation. The target of all links has been identified, and linked text is brief and meaningful to ensure readability when read out of context. For example, to inform a user viewing News of more articles, instead of "Click here", the linked text may say "More News articles". Linked text like the example, if read by itself, informs the user of what to expect and is helpful when scanning information. It also assists users whose technology can list all of the links of a webpage and takes into consideration people who may be using alternative computer access technology ("click" is specific to a mouse).

All navigation links are location sensitive; that is, the current page is displayed as text to provide the user with an indication as to their current location within the structure of the website. However, please note some links may not be visible to users of graphical browsers. These "hidden" links are programmed into the page as they are particularly helpful for people using non-graphical or text browsers and people using alternative computer access technology like screen readers and refreshable Braille displays.

Additionally, there is a detailed description of the website and its accessibility features, on this page ("Web Site Accessibility"), which is available through the "Accessibility" link in the footer of every page. Furthermore, navigation mechanisms and ways to bypass them have been consistently provided, including features such as:

Alternative text and descriptions for graphics (non-text)

The GRADE website, aside from the text-based navigational structures, has been designed to be all content and has avoided gratuitous use of graphic elements to assist in faster downloading of the website. When a graphic is used, a short, literal description of what the image represents is provided. This description known as alt-text (short for alternative text) is displayed in the browser of people using non-graphical or text browsers, users who may have images "turned off", and other users who may have difficulty viewing the graphics. For people using graphical browsers, such as Internet Explorer, the alternative text appears when the pointer hovers over the graphic.

Additionally, for complex graphics, more detailed information is offered through a long description (LONGDESC). However, as there is minimal support for LONGDESC, a description link or d-link is used for the same function. For people using non-graphical or text browsers and users who have images "turned off" in their browser, the d-link will be displayed as a link next to or surrounding the graphic as "Description of ...". The d-link may not be visible in graphical browsers as it has been programmed for aesthetics to be "hidden".

An example of the HTML coding for the alternative text and descriptions for the image (IMG) of the GRADE logo is as follows:
  <a href="logodescription.htm" title="Description of GRADE Logo" ><IMG src="logo.gif" ALT="Logo for GRADE" LONGDESC="logodescription.htm" ></a>

For an example of a descriptive link, visit Image Description Example from the Southeast DBTAC website.

Cascading style sheet (CSS)

The GRADE website uses templates and a cascading style sheet (CSS) to achieve a consistent style of presentation across all webpages and to facilitate separating the content from the layout or format. The CSS is one file that is applied to each webpage and is used to specify such characteristics as color, font type, font size, and spacing for a particular feature, such as a page title. Thus, if a change of color is desired for the page title, altering the CSS for that change becomes reflected in all the webpages with that feature. Users can choose to use the CSS for this website, their own customized CSS, or "turn off" CSS altogether. Accordingly, the website has been tested to ensure its usability with style sheets "turned off". In addition, the W3C CSS Validator has been used to verify that the CSS meets established specifications; this is represented by displaying this icon: Icon for W3C Valid Cascading Style Sheet (CSS).

Furthermore, the coding of the website has been tested to ensure its integrity has been maintained. Besides the web guidelines, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) defines specifications for using HyperText Markup Language (HTML), the publishing language of the World Wide Web. The W3C HTML Validation Service has been used to verify that the webpages meet the established W3C HTML 4.01 Specification; this is represented by displaying in the footer of each page this icon:Icon for W3C Valid HTML 4.0 Transitional Document.

Usability with alternative computer technology

The GRADE website has been created and tested to be usable with alternative computer technology. The website has been tested on workstations utilizing popular screen reader technologies such as Jaws. Furthermore, the website has been tested in numerous operating systems (Windows, Macintosh, Linux) running different browsers under various combinations of conditions, such as sounds and/or images "turned on" or "turned off". The tested browsers include text-only browsers, such as Lynx, and various popular graphic browsers such as Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, Opera, and Mozilla. Additionally, the website has been designed and tested to be usable without a mouse, on small or low-resolution screens, with only voice or text output, and with alternative keyboards. The website has also been tested to ensure important information is not conveyed with color, and that foreground and background colors provide sufficient contrast.; this ensures usability by individuals who may have low vision, color-blindness, or are working with technology or an environment where color or lighting may be comprised.

Clear and simple language

The GRADE website has tried to use clear and simple language appropriate for the content of the website. Large blocks of information have been divided into more manageable groups using such elements as paragraphs, lists, and headings. Scanning of information has been facilitated by front-loading headings and paragraph text. In addition, all forms have labels, such as "Name" associated with their field, such as the textbox in which to enter the name. Furthermore, where necessary, supplemental text with graphic elements has been provided to facilitate comprehension.

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