Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Of Goldfish and Men: Accessibility for the Cognitively Disabled

The John Slatin AccessU Conference has been held in early May since Knowbility started them in Austin, Texas, in 2004. I've perhaps missed 2 or 3 of these conferences (if my poor memory serves me) in my entire career as a web designer/developer for multiple higher education institutions, and what I've learned is that not only is this international conference on digital accessibility growing, it is perhaps the best conference anyone could attend, whether they are accessibility coordinators, content strategists, designers/usability experts, programmers/developers, testers, or even faculty building online course materials. For my summary of findings from this year's conference, you can skip down to the heading Takeaways.

I was excited to able to attend classes focused on programming using ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) which helps make web applications, widgets, and other plugins accessible with assistive technology, but the one content strategy session I went to on data visualizations -- e.g., bar graphs, line graphs, pie charts, diagrams, infographics -- that caught me by surprise.

You'd think as many times as I've attended, I'd have seen the set up coming during the Jan McSorley's keynote Accessibility is a Team Sport at Monday's lunch. McSorley, a teacher and assistive technology specialist with over 20 years of experience in K-12, described individuals with disabilities as
the only minority group anyone can join at any time and the only minority group anyone can leave at any time with the proper adaptive and assistive technology.

Hopped up on the apple crumble at my table, I didn't realize exactly what this meant until Tuesday morning as my Data Visualizations session began. There I was innocently asking the question, How do I make all these charts accessible that my university is asking me to place on web pages and emails? Use a crazy amount of alternative text?

We didn't cover screen reader accessibility first. That wasn't the biggest hurdle to discuss.

In fact, trying to make a visualization of data accessible to a blind user is a contradiction in and of itself. A visualization of data is meant for a visual user to interpret the actual data -- e.g., tabular data -- in a meaningful manner. Data tables can have a lot of information which can be interpreted in multiple ways.

So the real question is
How do I present this data in a way that it pops?

Well, that's not the question I thought I'd be asking. As a web designer, I've known that every individual will look at a design and have a very different opinion on whether it "pops" (called a no-win situation), so "popping" design didn't make sense. What does "pop" really mean in this context?
By viewing this content, can I quickly obtain the takeaways, or main points?

Why is it important that we make a takeaway quick to perceive? The answer comes from a 2015 study that humans have a decreasing attention span that may be caused by technology and information overload (more statistics on Attention Span and ADD/ADHD at Statistic Brain). In that study, it said that all of us -- not just individuals with ADD/ADHD -- have an average attention span of 8.25 seconds. In 2000, our average attention span was 12 seconds. If that decline isn't surprising, this comparison might be:
The average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds.
After 15 years we appear to now have an attention span shorter than a goldfish.

We seem to be experiencing a temporary cognitive disability -- that is, a shorter than normal attention span -- while working with technology. How can we not? We deal with information overload on a daily basis. We attempt to multitask, even though our brains cannot handle more than two tasks efficiently at a time. We've trained ourselves to scan for something interesting before we actually consider reading it thoroughly, and most of the time, we don't actually read the entire contents of any page.

This is what makes writing and designing for the web very different than writing a novel or a dissertation. We do want the information from that chart, novel, or dissertation, but we have to pull it out of all the fluff and arrange it strategically.


Screen Reader Friendly Data Visualizations

On-Page Alternatives: When providing visual data, always provide one or both of the following, either as an alternative or in addition to the visual:
  1. Figure Caption: A short paragraph conveying the meaning, or main point(s), of the chart.
  2. Table: The tabular data that this chart is based on.

Off-Page Alternatives: If you don't want those additional pieces showing on the page, provide them in a link typically to an Excel file, which is the most accessible way, behind a web page, to navigate tabular data.

Infographics: Avoid busy infographics wherever possible. If you can't, link to an alternative page with the takeaways in textual and tabular form.

Visually Friendly Data Visualizations

Proper Format: Choose the chart type that makes the most sense for the takeaway. For example, a line graph or bar chart can better describe an increase or decline over a period of time than a pie chart.

Goldilocks Labeling Rule: Put in just enough labels to help your user understand the point(s) you are getting across. Don't make it so visually busy that the user gets a different meaning than the one your wanted to convey. Similarly, don't take too many labels off if that it loses the meaning you wanted to convey.

Writing for Web

Keep it Simple: Write short chunks of information in paragraphs, lists, tables, etc. Divide main ideas into sections with logically placed headings.

Reading Level: An audience of college graduates can be set to 12th grade reading level, however, an audience of entering freshmen and other visitors should be set to 8th grade reading level.

Jargon: Start with common names anyone outside your institution would know, then introduce and define your jargon.

Content Strategy and Usability

Lengthy Content: Make sure takeaways can be perceived in a short span of time, including video content which typically shouldn't last more than 3 minutes.

Engaging Content: Cut down on the fluff. If your information does not provide a call-to-action, cut it.

Content Relevance: Always place relevant content near its topic, or subject matter, since your user is expecting any content in this section to be about this topic, not somewhere else on this page or another page.
  • Avoid Frequently Asked Questions: Instead of answering questions on a separate area of your website, place the "answers" within the relevant areas of your website, so no one has to hunt for it.
  • Avoid "Resource" or "Quick Link" Content: Similar to FAQs, no one knows what to expect in these sections. Label your content in meaningful ways that give them a clear idea of what is coming, and organize it based on its relevance to the section's topic.
Content Type Relevance: As with content topics, users expect certain areas on your page to hold similar types of content. For example, don't mix an event post with a faculty spotlight, news article, student testimonial, and an application deadline.

Intuitive vs. Spray and Pray: Ask yourself if they would they expect your content to be in a certain place on your website instead of duplicating content across multiple areas in order to "catch" them.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Surprise!

So, today was one of those typical Thursday mornings where I head over to our conference room for our 8 a.m. student intern meeting....until I walked through the door and got surprised!

Our awesome team.

Our wonderful interns brought cake, kolaches, cinnamon rolls, fruit, coffee and juice to surprise the full-timers! And they gave us cards. :) So very sweet of them!

Morgan, Karole and I appreciate our interns just as much (or more) than they appreciate us. They do so much great work for us and the rest of Tarleton, and if we didn't have them around we would not be able to get much done!

We have two students that are graduating next week: Yaritza and Nicole. To say that we are all sad is an understatement - Yaritza and Nicole are coveted members of our team, and we are just not ready to see them go. However, I know they will do great out in the world and will continue to make us proud. :)

We will have an opening for a student intern position beginning this summer. If you are a student at Tarleton and are interested in what we do and need a job, just email me at djhunt@tarleton.edu.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Now hiring a Web Content Strategist!

Web Services is now looking to hire a Web Content Strategist!

The primary responsibility for the Web Content Strategist is to develop and implement content strategy for Tarleton websites, which includes information architecture, writing style, SEO, content reuse, web analytics research, user testing, UX, and metadata development.

This position must:
  • Train, inform, and engage web site constituents on content strategy and best practices.
  • Mentor and work closely with student employees, which includes assigning web updates and tasks, identifying student employee strengths to maximize productivity, monitoring task progress, and providing feedback on content strategy.
  • Ensure adherence of web content to style guides, branding guides, accessibility and copyright laws, TAMU System/THECB /State specifications.
  • Identify opportunities for writing/editing content for the web, optimize print copy for the web, provide web writing expertise to the university community.

The Web Services team is creative and highly collaborative. Full-time employees enjoy a private office, convertible stand/sit desk, many restaurants within short walking distance, wellness initiatives/benefits, and more.

Required qualifications include: Bachelor’s degree and 3 years of professional work experience writing for the Web and content strategy OR a Bachelor’s degree specifically in Marketing, Communications, Technical Writing, Digital Media, or Computer Information Systems and 2 years of professional work experience writing for the Web and content strategy; Demonstrated experience with web design/development and online interactive technologies including content management systems, web analytic software,CMS, web forms, Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Acrobat Professional, Dreamweaver); Skills required include: writing and digital content development; effective content layout for web pages; understanding of Web accessibility standards and requirements; use of HTML, CSS, Javascript plug-ins and other web technologies; basic graphic design; and communication, collaboration, and organizational skills.

Tarleton State University, a member of The Texas A&M University System, provides a student-focused, value-driven educational experience marked by academic innovation and exemplary service, and dedicated to transforming students into tomorrow’s professional leaders. With campuses in Stephenville, Fort Worth, Waco, Midlothian and online, Tarleton engages with its communities to provide real-world learning experiences and to address societal needs while maintaining its core values of integrity, leadership, tradition, civility, excellence and service.

Tarleton State University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action/Veterans/Disability Employer. As a member of The Texas A&M System, Tarleton will provide equal opportunity for employment to all persons regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, veteran status, sexual orientation or gender identity and will strive to achieve full and equal employment opportunity through The Texas A&M System.

Apply online at https://jobs.tarleton.edu/postings/5248


My Experience at the CMIS Women in IT Conference in College Station, TX

Danielle Dunigan My name is Danielle, and I have been a student intern in the Office of Web Services for over a year and a half. I recently attended the CMIS Women in IT Conference, which is hosted at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX, with my colleagues Silvia and Daphne. I learned a lot of things at the conference, but the thing that really stuck out to me was the importance of networking. It’s good to have personal relationships with people from other companies. I found that it is really important to communicate with people from all over the globe because you can learn from them. I also learned a great deal from the speakers that came to talk to us. They pushed skills such as good work ethic and active listening. They also talked about their experience in the work force and how it affected them. Their stories were very inspiring. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of women that are into technology.

Web teams meeting up
Meeting up with Texas A&M web professionals was awesome! L to R: Danielle, Silvia, Donald, Daphne, Tim

Aside from the conference, we also got to have dinner with two Texas A&M employees that are web professionals. It was really interesting to hear about their experiences and how it is differs from working at Tarleton. For example, they have their own web team for each college whereas Tarleton has just one web team that covers all of the colleges and departments. Overall, I learned a lot and it was an amazing experience. I acquired some useful skills that will help me as a student and later in the workforce.


Friday, February 19, 2016

New Position Open in Web Services

We recently lost a member of our team - THANK YOU Ernie for leaving us to go to Amarillo! (I'm being sarcastic of course. We miss him a lot and wish him well!)

Ernie on his last day of work at Tarleton. :(
With Ernie vacating his position, we have a new position currently open on our team: Lead Web Applications Developer.

The successful candidate will plan and develop new and current web functionality and applications, as well as provide support and maintenance on the new and current applications. They will also gather and analyze requirements from university departments, faculty, and staff, ensure all web functions are accessibility compliant, incorporate responsive web design and technology into all site development, and manage web development using revision control software.

Our team is easy-going, creative, highly collaborative, and FUN. Full-time employees enjoy a private office, convertible stand/sit desk, many restaurants within short walking distance, wellness initiatives/benefits, and more. What more could you ask for in a job? :)

To view more details about the position and/or apply online, visit jobs.tarleton.edu.

If you have questions, feel free to email me.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Strangers with Candy: How To Determine Legitimate and Credible Websites

I tripped over a hilarious website during some research recently. The site changes something innocent and pure to something very shady. In fact, if you want to see, go to http://www.5z8.info/the-most-dangerous-game_f4a5in_this-page-will-steal-all-of-your-personal-data. Okay - that web address looks pretty scary, but I can honestly say that it will go to something slightly less nefarious: Facebook's homepage. And I promise this goes to Tarleton's website: http://www.5z8.info/asian-brides_u9f6tl_barely-legal.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't encourage you to click on anything you have any slight misgivings about. You should listen to your gut instincts when you see unusual links. That includes anything you receive in your email, particularly when it comes from a stranger "with a nice van offering you candy."

Stranger danger.

In Badgering Us for Badges (and Other Social Engineering Scams), I mentioned some tips on how to spot scams. But how can we tell if someone is truly legitimate? There really are legitimate sites out there, and real people - not robots - telling us exciting news about our university that we may want to mention with a back link to their website. What tell-tale signs are there that we can specifically look at? Is the website legitimate?

Legitimate Ranking Websites

I mentioned in the last article that strangers from college ranking websites may contact you claiming that you ranked # on such-and-such degree and that they offer "quid pro quo." You put their link on your page, but should you investigate them first? (Hint: Scam artists hope you won't investigate!)

Are they even Human?

Read their verbiage and take note of anything that doesn't sound human, looks misspelled or grammatically incorrect, or for that matter, truly relevant to your website. Typically, if you have earned recognition for ranking high on an international or national college ranking system, that should be termed as an award or recognition, not a "resource". If something sounds out of context, then stranger danger.

Good for Them, Bad for Us

Like I mentioned before, resource pages are havens for "mischievous strangers with candy" hoping you'll add their malicious links, so they can infect you (i.e., lower your website search rankings) or others (i.e., steal personal information or hack computers). Being a university, we have the legitimacy and credibility that these strangers need to get more people to list them, boosting their search rankings.

Legitimate and Credible Sources

Are the sources recognizable? Do other prestigious universities reference them? Have you heard of them before, and not just because they landed on the first page results of a Google search?

Actually, it is very easy to find a legitimate website and then find one that looks just slightly different and has less of the credible information you need in order to trust them. Look for the following on their website:

Who is running the show?

Check for an About page of some type that provides a human face or human references, preferably those that link to legitimate firms or major media outlets. If the only information they provide is that they collected data from public databases that hold information about our university, then anyone with a programming background (and a designer keeping up with design/layout trends) can slap a website together and call it legit.

Think about it: just because someone can post our Tarleton logo on their email doesn't make theirs legitimate - they need to come from our domain: tarleton.edu.

Will they sell information to third-party vendors?

Maybe. Maybe not. But you should be able to find something on any law abiding website that details how they use the information you or anyone else provides. Will illegitimate sites try to convince you they have such a page? Yes, they will! And it may not even say "Privacy Policy," but because they know your strong suit is in English, they'll hope you don't read past their synonym trickery.

For example, I've run across a website that replaced their Privacy Policy with a Disclosure Policy. Inside said policy, they included absolutely nothing about what they do with your information, but they most certainly went on and on about disclosing university information for a price (and a lovely position well above the supposedly credibly ranked universities).

What is their methodology? Do they provide true comparison shopping?

Sure, they provide a "methodology," and they list a bunch of schools out on a page, but do the results make any sense? Are schools treated fairly in the result listings?

Don't get fooled by a fancy outline of weighted measurements. Read them. For example, how do you determine "Strength of Faculty?" Do you collect crowd-sourced votes on "Rate My Professor?" Or average the number of degree types held by professors? How about taking the grades of the students in their courses? And if you went that direction, if students make high grades, does that mean the professor taught well or gave their students easy breaks and lots of ways to make up absences and failed exams? Make sure the criteria are defined in a way that makes reasonable sense, something that can be calculated across all universities the same way.

And if they do provide a reasonable methodology, can you easily compare the criteria each are judged on, so you can tell how University A ranked higher than University B?

Are they being misleading?

Just like with the privacy policy, do they make their website do something you didn't quite expect? One example I found took advantage of the fact that we don't pay just as much attention to details as we should. It had a very obvious Quick Search with degree search criteria on it which made me expect to find a list of universities ranked on that degree, however, it went instead to a sign up form.

Normally, when we see sign up forms we think about how the site is going to give us personalized information, like financial aid opportunities. This page had a generic description of the degree itself, along with a randomly generated university, but more importantly, it had a disturbing way of asking for my information to sign up.

Again, if I had not paid attention to this step-by-step process, I wouldn't realize that I was about to put my information in the hands of third-party vendors whom I was giving consent to remove liability for spamming me with texts, emails, phone calls, and junk mail. Yes, they claimed they only required demographic information about me while showing me that the personal information fields were optional, but as soon as I clicked on the Continue button, I realized the personal information fields had all magically become required, and I saw a statement similar to this:
Clicking the "Continue" button below constitutes your express written consent to be contacted by email, phone, text and prerecorded message by [randomly generated university that you didn’t intend to sign up with] at the number(s) you provided, regarding furthering your education. You understand and agree that these calls may be generated using an automated technology
If warning bells haven't rung in your head, you've never had multiple phone calls from recordings or tried to put yourself on the Do Not Call Registry after you were positive you already added yourself months ago.

Let Us Check Your Candy Before You Take a Bite

If you have any misgivings about a request to add a link to your website, don't click the links and don't add the content to your website. Remember: stranger danger. If you think it is legitimate or credible, let Web Services give it a check first. We know their patterns and habits, including the latest trends in social engineering, and we want the best, highest quality sites flowering us with praise. We love praise. And candy. Good, clean chocolate candy... Well, I do, anyway.