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Podcast: Technology Conversations

Welcome to Technology Conversations, brought to you by the IT Training team, Center for Instructional Technology and Training (CITT). Here you will hear conversations from IT experts in different fields as well as discussions on how technology plays a key role in individuals’ personal and professional lives.

Episode 10: Accessibility

In this episode you will learn about accessibility and different techniques you can apply to make your work more accessible whether you are an instructor, student, or staff. Hear from an expert, Laura Jervis, Instructional designer with Center for Instructional Technology and Training (CITT).

View Podcast Transcript

Anchalee Phataralaoha: Welcome to our podcast Technology Conversations, where we discuss technology related topics from how to find resources for your technology needs to how technology can impact our lives. My name is Anchalee Phataralaoha and I will be your host. 

Today we have an expert in accessibility, Laura Jervis who is an Instructional designer with Center for Instructional Technology and Training or what we call CITT. Hi, Laura. 

Laura Jervis: Hi, Anchalee. Thank you for having me. 

Anchalee Phataralaoha: Thank you for being here. So, first off, could you tell us about yourself? 

Laura Jervis: Yeah, I've been at the University of Florida for a number of years now. I got my undergraduate degree here and my master's. When I was working also at UF at the English Language Institute, teaching English as a second language, I had a friend who worked at CITT and she said we have a job opening up soon, and I think you might really like it here. And I applied and I do. 

Anchalee Phataralaoha: So I guess you love being an ID? 

Laura Jervis: Yeah, I do like being an ID. It feels like a lot of the really fun parts of teaching that I enjoyed, but maybe with a little bit less pressure and less grading. And it helped me move a little bit more into digital accessibility, which I didn't know a lot about when I was teaching and now is my main professional interest. 

Anchalee Phataralaoha: OK, so what exactly is accessibility? 

Laura Jervis: That's a good question. I guess you could say that accessibility is considering what you're making from the perspective of users with disabilities and making sure that the content, like the digital content you create, will be usable for people who have a wide range of physical abilities or impairments, maybe people who are using assistive technology, like somebody who's blind and using a screen reader for example. And it also touches on whether or not the material is cognitively easy to follow. That doesn't mean that it's simple or basic or not deep or rigorous, but it just means that you can expend your brain power on the content and not finding the content and accessing it. 

Anchalee Phataralaoha: So it sounds like accessibility might mean different things to different people, for example, for faculty and staff or students? Maybe the focus is different. 

Laura Jervis: That's very accurate and some people might mainly be creating video content. So when I talk to them about accessibility, I want to know if their videos are captioned and things like that. Somebody else who comes to me because they maybe are an instructor who wants to share PowerPoint slides or PDFs with their students; they have different things that they need to be focused on. 

Anchalee Phataralaoha: So it sounds like accessibility is for everyone. 

Laura Jervis: Absolutely, yeah. I think some people might think of accessibility as something kind of contained, but really it's all of our responsibility. And so I like telling people about it so that they can start to take their share of that and, you know, be empowered to do it themselves. 

Anchalee Phataralaoha: OK. And how does the university support this effort in accessibility? 

Laura Jervis: In a lot of ways, you know, UF does have an Electronic Information Technology and Communication Accessibility policy. I know that's a mouthful. It's the EITCA policy, stating that everything we put online, all of our electronic communications need to comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. And there are also a lot of people on campus doing accessibility work. The Disability Resource Center, of course. And also the ADA office serves employees and faculty. There are also a lot of people like me on campus who are there to answer questions about digital accessibility. My office offers consultations and trainings and some online resources. There's also a community of practice here at UF where a lot of us who are doing work like this get together, ask each other questions, share what we're doing, and anybody is invited to join that. We also have a monthly video series called Accessibility in Five, where the videos are 5 minutes or less, except once because I couldn't stop talking in -6 minutes. And we also have a training called Accessible Online Environments that I highly recommend. 

Anchalee Phataralaoha: So going back to the accessibility. I suppose the university has a requirement, right, for everyone to meet. What are those requirements? 

Laura Jervis: Yeah, so everybody should be making sure that their content online meets with WCAG 2.1 standards up to AA compliance. Which I know is very technical, but that's a pretty, I don't want to say universally, but widely accepted standard for web accessibility. 

Anchalee Phataralaoha: How do people find out more about those standards? 

Laura Jervis: Yeah. So there is a website. If you Google WCAG, that's WCAG standards, you'll find all of the standards listed through an organization called WebAIM, but it can be a little bit overwhelming. So I like to encourage people to start by reading something on our website or taking a training that instead of focusing on, you know, standard 3.4.12. I don't actually remember if that is a standard or not. They have different numbers but instead of focusing on all these standards, they can focus on it more holistically and think about what my audience might need. 

Anchalee Phataralaoha: What do you think is the first step that people should take if they want to make their materials or maybe their teaching or their work practice to be more accessible? 

Laura Jervis: I think the first thing is to stop and reconsider what you're making from the perspective of somebody who maybe is blind and they have a screen reader reading their screen to them, and then somebody who's deaf or hard of hearing and can't access any of the audio. And also somebody who maybe has color blindness or low vision. And kind of just think about all of the different people who might be interacting with your content and think, if I could not use a mouse, would I still be able to navigate this web page with just a keyboard? Or if I couldn't hear this video, would the captions make sense to me. 

Anchalee Phataralaoha: OK. Any resources that people can reach out to if they need help? 

Laura Jervis: Our website has a section of our resources called Accessible Course Design and that includes like a very concise list of five tips for accessibility that I think is a great starting point. It just gives five, well 5 tips that can help. So the first one is just to describe images. You can maybe do this as part of your text, or maybe you have alternative text. And this is so somebody who can't see the image, still knows what's in it. That can also apply to videos, like having an audio description of what's happening visually. The next tip is providing text alternatives for audio. So that might mean a caption or a transcript. Some of you might be accessing this podcast through a transcript instead of listening to it. The next one is choosing color carefully, so making sure that your colors aren't so similar that it's hard to read things and things don't really pop out to your audience. The next tip is easy actually. It's just making sure your text is readable. Is the font big enough? Is the font clear? Is something like Arial or Calibri is usually pretty safe? And then the last one is applying structure like bullet points and headings and things like that. But it's also important to note that those things need to be represented in the metadata of something like a Word document or a PDF or a website. They can't just be bigger text. So the website has links to some tutorials of how to make sure you're doing that correctly. 

Anchalee Phataralaoha: What exactly is metadata? 

Laura Jervis: Metadata is data in a document or file that your average user is not seeing, but the program knows it's there. So if I'm in a Word document and I make text bigger, that might visually look like a title to me because I'm sighted. But somebody who's using assistive technology would not know it's a title unless the program has designated it as a title or a heading. And then the assistive technology knows, when you say what's the title of this document, there it is. 

Anchalee Phataralaoha: OK, sounds good. Any final thoughts? 

Laura Jervis: My last thought is that the easiest accessibility standard to meet is one that I frequently see go unnoticed, and that is color contrast. Sometimes when we're designing things, we want them to look nice. We want to, you know, use this color that works well with our theme. But if the background color and the text are too similar in terms of how dark they are, not just in terms of the hue itself, it can be really difficult for people with low vision to access that content. Or you know, if somebody is color blind and there is a pink so reddish background with green text, you know, those might look very similar or the same to them. So that could keep them from accessing it as well. And it's something that is really easy to do well, but only if you consider it from the beginning. 

Anchalee Phataralaoha: Right. So we got to put ourselves in their shoes. 

Laura Jervis: Yeah, exactly. 

Anchalee Phataralaoha: All right. Thank you very much, Laura, for sharing with us your resources and knowledge about accessibility. 

Laura Jervis: Thank you, Anchalee. It's been fun. 

Anchalee Phataralaoha: And that's it everyone. And we will see you next time for a topic of interest in IT. 

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