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Digital Equity, Accessibility, & Universal Design: What do you know about Web 2.0?

Digital Equity, Accessibility, & Universal Design:

What do you know about Web 2.0?

"It is not only one person's work,

it's really a partnership and collaboration during all these years." 


Image courtesy of Flickr and The Library of Congress. "This photo was taken some time in 1890."

The CSU Digital Media and Learning Workgroup met for its third session and the discussion focused on universal design and accessibility for all users within the university community. In a handbook, titled Universal Design Handbook (Preiser & Ostroff, 2001), Laurie Ringaert provides some background information in her chapter "User/Expert Involvement in Universal Design:"


The universal design movement is committed to ensuring that all spaces, products, and communications meet the needs of people of all ages and various levels of ability and that design in general contributes to quality of life...It strives to achieve safety, comfort, and convenience for all citizens in the community. Part of the universal design paradigm is user involvement in the process. Traditionally, any users have been minimally involved in design projects. The designer for a client has carried out designs with little input from the prospective user groups. This deficit has included persons with disabilities and seniors, along with nontraditional users such as maintenance personnel. The Universal Design Institute, formerally the Canadian Institute for Barrier-Free Design (CIBFD), sought to rectify this situation by developing and delivering a universal design access consultant training program for user/experts, in this case, persons with disabilities, and by subsequently involving them in various projects. The institute's recognition of consumers with disabilities as user/experts arises from the independent living paradigm (Ringaert, 2001).

I found the background information above informative for a couple of reasons. One is because the universal design movement focuses on equity, a term we discussed in our conversation this evening. We talked about "digital equity" and how students of all learning and physical abilities have the right to be afforded access to online spaces. In particular, we talked about blind students and how many students struggle when assigned by instructors to interact within an online classroom. 

The above passage from the Universal Design Handbook also intrigues me because it mentions how the users' involvement in the process is a part of the universal design paradigm. We collectively agreed that exploring Web 2.0 tools will help in better providing access to the entire community, including communities such as the blind or hearing impaired, that have often been marginalized in the digital sphere. I particularly like the idea of developing "a universal design access consultant training program for user/experts." It follows the philosophy of pairing a person with a passion with an expert tutor. (That kind of sounds like what the InnovationLab does.) I know this already is happening in many other contexts, but does any know effective Web 2.0 tools to use for enhancing accessibility within a university community and working to achieve digital equity?

We would love to hear your thoughts on this issue...

Please post and join our conversation:

I've read the transcript to the above blog entry aloud, which is provided in the YouTube video below:



A colleague from our Haiti Lab at the Franklin Humanities Institute asked my advice about the best ways to create a library of low res books that students in Haiti can access easily--thumb drives with low resolution pdf's, tagging low data "canonical" texts and archives (literary, historical) from internet cafes, excellent translations between English and Haitian Kreyol, etc. This is the beginning of a conversation, obviously, but I'd love to hear from anyone with interest in this topic where access and digital divice is so palpable and urgent. 


One simple thing that you can do to help with digital accessibility is to ensure that every element of your user interface is accessible through use of the "tab" key (along with shift-tab to go backwards, and arrow-keys to navigate drop-down menus), and that the tab-order proceeds left-to-right (unless using a right-to-left language such as Arabic or Hebrew, of course), then top-to-bottom, and that the selected element highlight in some way. If you're providing a tool, consider including keyboard shortcuts as well. Note also that keyboard navigability is vital not only for users who cannot use a mouse, but is also good for "power users" who can often access elements more quickly via keyboard commands than via mouse commands.

Note too that any audio component to your interface should have some visual component as well, not only to support deaf users but also to support those who have their sound off. Typically audio components are only a little bell tinkling to attract the user's attention to a new message of some sort. The best option here is to briefly display a popup message in the corner of the screen, and to have an icon which changes status when the user has unread messages to check (the old Gmail Notifier handled this well).

Other things to consider include avoiding complicated (or, worse, nested) table-based layouts, which besides generally being bad web design do not always play nicely with page-readers used by the blind and visually impaired, and to ensure that your interface is accessible by the color-blind, which is especially important given how prevalent color-blindness is. This means that whenever you use color to distinguish different elements or provide information in the user interface, you should ensure that some additional cues are included that do not rely on color. If it's impossible to navigate your site or use your tool in black-and-white, then you've got a problem.


I very much admire your commitment to users.  Thanks for another great comment.   I've passed it on to my friends in the Haiti Lab and this was very well received.  What I often find is that it is difficult to think basic and simple when one has privilege and resources . . . and survival if all one has is basic and simple.  I appreciate your thinking about this very much.  I hope it is okay if I pass along your name to Laurent Dubois, codirector of Haiti Lab, in case he might want to be in touch with you. 


Thank you, too, Cathy, for your commitment and for taking the time to respond to our concern in our blog. The information above is helpful and I hope others lend their ideas as well. I would like to learn more about the Haiti Lab, is there someplace I can visit to see what they are doing there?

There's a lot to consider when designing a learning experience for anyone, digital or otherwise, and it's reassuring to see so many dedicated people who sincerely care about making the process of learning the best that it can be for everyone. I look forward to the things I will learn from the HASTAC community.


Our John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute has gone to a Humanities Lab model and the Haiti Lab is our first of these.  Here's the url:


Anonymous (not verified)

this is really helpful. thank you for your commitment.....