a>), which went live in April,
offers tools, guidelines, training and other support to
help those in the university community fashion Web pages,
library resources and distance learning systems that are
accessible to individuals with visual impairments, learning
disabilities and other conditions that may limit or prevent
their access to and use of such services.
Peggy Hayeslip, the university's associate director
disability services and chair of the Web Accessibility
Committee, said that a main goal of the new site is to
bring the university into compliance with Section 504 of
the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and the Americans With
Disabilities Act of 1990, both of which require colleges
and universities to make their services, including online
and electronic content, accessible to individuals with
disabilities and to the public at large.
"We are doing this because we have both a need and a
legal obligation to provide accessibility to all users of
our Web sites," Hayeslip says. "With this site, we are
trying to provide an educational resource to the Johns
Hopkins community so they can learn what Web accessibility
is, and why it's so important."
Just as ramps and electronically controlled doors
provide building access to those with disabilities,
Hayeslip says the university's online services need to be
reconfigured to include such features as graphic
descriptions, captioned videos and content that does not
necessarily require the latest version of a Web browser or
plug-in to be viewed. Two major components of any
accessible Web site, she says, are that it keeps in mind
those with low-end computer equipment and that it is
compatible with assistive technology, including screen
readers that allow the visually impaired to hear
information on the pages.
Janine Harig, Web development programmer at SPSBE and
a committee member, said the Web Accessibility site's
function is to offer basic and free information on how to
develop a fully comprehensible Web page, such as how to
write code for a keystroke option that will display a text
description of an image or animation.
"Nongraphical browsers and screen readers cannot
display images to visually impaired users. Therefore, it is
important to offer alternative text to describe the
contents of all images in your Web pages," she says. "Also,
sighted users can ignore navigation links that appear at
the top and sides of the pages and go directly to the main
content. People who are reading the page with speech
synthesis, however, must listen to all the links before
getting to the main content. By installing a simple bit of
code at the top of the page, you can enable all visitors to
skip to the main content."
The site, in addition to defining Web accessibility
and pointing to the laws that mandate such practices, has a
"What Can I Do?" section that lists resources and
checklists to help identify and test for the elements of an
accessible Web site. Items on one checklist include
providing captions or transcripts of important audio
content, offering text-only pages and ensuring that color
information can also be conveyed for those with
The 11-member Web Accessibility Committee formed in
spring 2002 and since then has hosted a series of workshops
that offer personalized training on Web site development.
The committee seeks to expand its educational opportunities
in the coming year and also plans to host a one-day Web
accessibility conference in January 2006. Details
concerning the new workshop offerings and upcoming
conference will be placed on the site.
For those looking for formal training, the Welch
Medical Library offers a course called Accessible Web
Design each fall and spring.
Hayeslip says that some of Johns Hopkins' peer
institutions, including MIT, Stanford and Dartmouth, are
ahead of the curve on Web accessibility best practices and
that the university needs to emulate these models and be
more proactive as its amount of online content swells.
For questions regarding Web accessibility, contact