Website access for all kinds of learners
July 10, 2010 11:22 AM   Subscribe

How to make legal information accessible on line? For persons who are different kinds of learners, persons with different disabilities, persons with and without literacy, different languages, etc.

I work at a nonprofit that provides legal information, advice, counseling, and representation to low-wage workers. In recent years, as access to the internet has become more widespread, we have increasingly used our website as one platform to provide legal information -- factsheets, self-help tools (e.g. sample forms and letters), FAQs, etc. -- to the public. (We also do lots of non-web dissemination, e.g. legal clinics, in-person trainings, etc.)

We are working always to increase the accessibility of our materials, and consider it an ongoing process. Our website meets disability access standards, and is fully translated into English, Spanish, and Chinese. We are now thinking about additional types of accessibility. For example, providing video or audio podcasts for persons who learn by listening/watching. Perhaps podcasts with vignettes for people who learn by seeing examples. Video blogs with sign language and captioning (subtitles) for deaf and hard of hearing people. Working to use accessible language and design for persons with less education/literacy and/or with cognitive/learning disabilities. See, e.g., this site.

Questions -- What are we forgetting? Do we need some kind of consultant? Where to start? Is there a dictionary available of "plain language"? Are there other guides we should review? Model web sites for this type of accessibility?
posted by ClaudiaCenter to Writing & Language (2 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
One of the things we know about people with disabilities is that they are online much less than people without disabilities, and that when they are online, they tend to do less. This can be because they don't have broadband or it can be because interacting with online content is more challenging. I often look towards government sites that serve all Americans to get some tips. Looking at or to see how they make their content available. I just finished writing a book about computer instruction at public libraries and accessibility was a large part of what I was telling people to pay attention to. The most helpful document that I found was’s Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines manual that not only gives you guidelines but actually gives you guidelines that are supported by research, not just what various people think is a good idea through their own personal experiences. It also weights all the suggestions so you can see at a glance which parts are more important and which parts are less important so that you can prioritize.

So, in my work, we focus on making sure that all content is accessible to people with dial-up, that there's an alternate entry point to the content that's not a bunch of slippyslidey DHTML menus [even though I personally love them] and making sure that people have a way to interact with the information that is not online. This last part is tough because obviously that sort of thing doesn't scale, but if your mission is to make this information accessible, have a way for people to have stuff sent to them by calling someone or emailing someone, don't rely on online content delivery systems if you have a fair idea that some people just will not be able to use them. I'd also suggest doing some sort of usability testing with what you come up with where you take people from your actual client base and give them a task-based set of assignments with your website and then observe what they do and see if it jibes with what you think they'll do. So not just "hey do you like our website" but saying "hey can you find where the XYZ forms are?" and then watch what they do.

Here are the rest of the links I included in the accesibility part of my bibliography. Hope they're helpful.

Introduction to Web Accessibility

Designing More Usable Web Sites

The Center on Human Policy

Universal Access: Making Library Resources Accessible to People with Disabilities

ASCLA “Library Accessibility –What You Need to Know” tipsheets

Check your site for accessibility

Accessibility at Microsoft

Accessibility at Apple

Ubuntu Accessibility


Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Keyboard shortcuts for Windows

Mac OSX keyboard shortcuts
posted by jessamyn at 11:33 AM on July 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you can manage it, I highly recommend getting a bunch of different people with varying levels if dis/ability for actual usability and accessibility testing. Despite all your best efforts and reading of technical or legal requirements, what's obvious to one person won't be to another and vice versa. It is, after all, entirely possible to create a technically "accessible" website that passes certain automated checkmarks but is still unusable.
posted by Ky at 11:49 AM on July 10, 2010

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