New web service tests accessibility on debut

New web service tests accessibility on debut

Photo courtesy Boise State University

My.Boisestate.edu student experience launched Monday in a move aimed at helping simplify and consolidate the management of online resources for students. It will be followed in coming months by a faculty and staff edition.

Along with the release will be a test to how well the new service holds up when put into action, including potential problems for
users with disabilities.

While many students are used to being able to just see a website, click from link to link and navigate a page visually in silence, others rely on audio prompts through special software to navigate the webpage.

As users begin working with my.boisestate for students, it will be an ongoing process to identify problems and make changes, which will make access easier for disabled students, as well as everyone else.

The Office of Information Technology (OIT) has been working with the Disability Resource Center (DRC) to try and make the new service as accessible for all students as possible.
And despite some known roadblocks, OIT and the DRC have positive expectations for the software.

Mike Gibson, assistive technology coordinator at the DRC, was happy with the level of communication between departments during the production of my.boisestate and was involved with OIT to help them identify problems for disabled users and make the software better for them.

“If we think about accessibility in the design stage of anything, whether it’s a building or whether it’s a new portal like my.boisesestate, it’s a lot easier and cheaper in fact there’s really no cost impact at all when you’re in the design stage to just build in those components of accessibility as opposed to going back and having to retrofit it, and make it work,” Gibson said.

The communication between departments is hugely valuable due to the disconnect between users with normal sight and those without.

“I have no idea where that information physically is on the page,” Gibson said. He demonstrated the use of hotkeys and audio prompts from dictation software which he used to navigate the website.

According to Gibson, one challenge faced by disabled students is the effectiveness of disability software is behind the technology of
web software.

Like any new release, my.boisestate is not going to be perfect, but there are measures in place to help improve the experience over time.

Much of the work to improve the service moving forward is likely to come from user-input which OIT can then act on.

This is something OIT intends to do on a monthly basis and they have even built a large orange button for feedback which they hope users will take advantage of.

In regard to the experience’s ability to change, Shad Jessen, manager of OIT communication talked about the use of built in feedback tools.

“We developed this system so that what wer’re debuting next week is really the base system which will continue to develop and evolve over time on a monthly basis,” Jessen said.

According to Jessen some of OIT’s ideas have come from student feedback in the past, as well as some of the inspiration behind my.boisestate.

Disabled students on campus, will also be able to submit feedback which can be taken into account to further develop the service to be more accommodating as they’re able to identify problems students with normal vision ironically cannot see.

In coming months the new service will encounter challenges, but if the communication between OIT and the DRC continues to be proactive and feedback from students is useful, then the service is likely to see very positive changes in coming months which will likely be implemented into the faculty and staff editions as they are released.