Failures in library website accessibility: A problem of accountability

Open Access
Conference Proceedings
Authors: Angie BrunkDaniel Ireton

Abstract: Not every library can have an accessibility expert on staff while redesigning their website. Every library can, however, develop their own informed personnel. At Kansas State University Libraries, a task force focused on developing and maintaining a new website formed, coinciding with the hire of a librarian who is disabled and experienced in human factors, user experience, and accessibility. This provided an opportunity not only for improved accessibility, but a more nuanced understanding of the needs and experiences of disabled patrons. In this process we learned that lack of accountability is often a significant barrier to libraries designing an accessible website. To successfully design an accessible website, accessibility must be a priority from the beginning of the design process rather than a checklist and fixes applied at the end of the process. A common hurdle to an organization adopting an accessibility focused approach to design is the lack of personnel dedicated specifically to accessibility. All too often, this responsibility becomes dispersed among a team of designers, by which accessibility becomes an afterthought. To paraphrase Bandura (1990), if everybody is in charge, nobody is in charge. At least one person must be tasked with developing knowledge of accessibility and advocating for the needs of disabled users. While everyone on the team responsible for web content development should possess some basic knowledge of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), one person needs to have primary responsibility and accountability. If this individual does not currently have a grounding in disability theory, then developing a basic understanding of disability theory should be their priority. Our literature review would serve as a solid foundation. Just as usability testing should be done with human users, accessibility should be tested by people who both will use the website and use assistive and adaptive technology on a regular basis. Finding disabled users for testing can present some ethical dilemmas. In the United States, for example, information about a student’s disability status is protected by both FERPA AND HIPAA. While this does present a challenge, it is possible to overcome this challenge and find disabled users in an ethical manner. It should be understood when testing website accessibility, the real question is not, for example, “can a blind person use my website,” but rather, “can a person who uses magnification or a screen reader use my website.” Any office or organization on campus that works with disabled students can assist with recruiting volunteers and snowball sampling can be used from there. In this paper we argue that designating one person, who will be held accountable, as responsible for accessibility and advocating for the needs of disabled users is an essential step in creating an accessible library web presence. In addition, we present a viable pathway for a non-expert in accessibility to develop sufficient competency to serve as an advocate for disabled users in the web development process.Bandura, A. (1990) Selective activation and disengagement of moral control. Journal of Social Issues, 46(1), 27-46.

Keywords: Accessibility, disability, libraries, WCAG, usability

DOI: 10.54941/ahfe1001645

Cite this paper: