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Accessibility opens doors to all users

Published: 10 Feb 2003

McGill's IT systems comply with industry-standard web accessibility guidelines.

February 10, 2003

For the majority of people, access to the web and online information systems can be empowering. It gives users significant control over information about the world and themselves. Unfortunately, for an important number of potential users, this technology has not opened doors -- it has raised new barriers.

Most users take for granted web graphics and layouts. They understand the emerging conventions of web design and generally overlook ordinary design flaws, and migrate around sites with relative ease. However, users with sight impairments and other disabilities who rely on special assistive technologies to make sense of web pages are often stopped short by the code that makes up these pages. There are numerous obstacles: Javascript-dependent links and navigation tools, lack of appropriately labelled HTML tags, untitled web graphics, and forms that do not permit tabbed movement from field to field.

As an increasing number of University services and functions become web-based, including admissions applications, course registration, fee payments and student records, generation of financial reports, etc., the information systems and technology services must make these resources uniformly accessible to all users. Therefore, McGill's frontline web services are making their pages accessible.

"Surfing the web can be a difficult and time-consuming ordeal. I can't see the links on a page, so I have to rely on web designers to add descriptive tags and organize pages in a logical fashion," says John Robert Doyle, a blind third-year student. "Since I must use my voice reader, and my memory, and not my eyes, I need consistent, structured navigation tools. I really appreciate the work that has gone into the McGill Gateway pages, as well as the Minerva Student Information System. I can find my way around the Gateway much more easily."

McGill University, through the Office of the VP (Information Systems and Technology), is committed to providing accessible web pages and services throughout both the McGill Gateway web system and the Minerva Information Systems. The McGill Gateway system, powered by a content management system developed and maintained by the Web Communications Group (WCG), is the University's central web system. The Minerva Information System, built with software licensed from the SCT Banner Corporation and implemented by the Banner Project, is McGill's primary online data resource for students, faculty and staff. The WCG and the Banner Project are both units reporting to McGill's Information Systems Resources (ISR).

With changes to their user interfaces, the WCG and the Banner Project have made special efforts to comply with the guidelines defined by the W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) as well as those laid out in the Government of Canada's Common Look and Feel (CLF) Standards, and US Section 508 legislation.

The WCG emphasis was to bring pages into compliance with the Priority 1 and 2 checkpoints of the WAI. To accomplish this, the WCG had to rewrite all of its templates and is now converting the code that renders its web pages. The McGill Gateway system contains nearly 10,000 pages, including most of the University's faculties and administrative web pages. The Banner software upgrade provides the Minerva web applications with "Web UI and Accessibility" enhancements that improve access for individuals who use adaptive technology such as screen readers and screen enlargers.

For more information on the McGill Gateway's accessibility compliance, please visit Help. For more information on the Minerva Information Systems, please see the Minerva website.

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