The Mushroom Factor
Sometimes when we’re working with a Web site content editor, we encounter what might be referred to as the “Mushroom Factor“. Owners of old houses are familiar with this: you start what should be a small project, like painting a room. The next thing you know, the job has mushroomed to the point where you’re tearing out the plaster and lathe, replacing the electrical wiring along with a few studs and the insulation and putting up dry wall.
In Web site terms, you may have a few new lines of copy or a new PDF to publish and link to from an existing page. You check the PDF for accessibility, make a few adjustments and you’re ready to upload. The page where the link to the document will reside was created some time ago, so there’s a good chance that parts of it may not meet our Web Accessibility Policy Guidelines. You take a look at the page, and you realize just how far short it falls. Your update goes from the addition of a simple new link, to reworking the page.
But the good news is that, unlike an old house, a Web page is just HTML, and fixing what’s wrong most likely won’t take all that long, when you know what to do and why you’re doing it.
Partner of the Week – Jennifer Muha
Our Web Accessibility Partner for the Week of January 4th found herself in just that position. Jennifer Muha is the graduate assistant who edits the Academic Outreach & Contract Training site. She had an updated registration form in PDF format which needed to be linked to from the Fundamentals of Engineering exam page.
The page itself was first created in 2010, so there were a number of issues:
- A lack of structure.
- What should have been a heading was a bold paragraph
- What should have been a bold paragraph with styling to make it stand out, was a heading
- The PDF was not identified as a PDF so that a visitor might expect to have the link open another Web page
- Several links opened new windows without warning – confusing to someone with cognitive difficulties
- Large blocks of text were in italics which can be extremely hard to read
- Some text which was not a link was underlined which can be confusing since we’re conditioned to expect that any underlined text on a Web page is a link.
- Visitors were told to look for a link later in the copy when it would have been easier to just provide the link when it was first mentioned.
- The text for one line was red, making it difficult to read against a white background.
- Several links were written out as URLs rather than in human readable form, which can be very difficult for a screen reader user to listen to. For example:
Here is the original link text and a recording of that text as read by the JAWS screen reader software:
Raw URL link text as read by the JAWS screen reader
Here is the revised link text, in a more human readable form, and a recording of that link as read by the JAWS screen reader software:
Register for the exam and learn more about the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying [Opens in New Window]
As you can tell, in the human readable version, the screen reader user is also alerted to the fact that the link will open a new window, unlike with the raw URL version.
We want to stress that these issues are not all that unusual. They show up on many of the legacy pages that we review for compliance with our Web Accessibility Policy. They’re the result of outdated practices and archaic information and just need to be brought up to date.
And that’s just what Jennifer did. We helped Jennifer update the PDF, and then sat down with her to talk about the rest of the content and the changes required. Within 20 minutes of our conversation, Jennifer had brought the page into compliance, making it more accessible to everyone! Her quick response and her understanding of what needed to be done are just two of the reasons why we’re proud to name Jennifer Muha our Web Accessibility Partner of the Week!