Designing for Accessibility: Learnings from a Higher Ed Website Redesign

Insights / 02.26.2024
Red Door /

5/7/2024 6:25:10 PM Red Door Interactive http://www.reddoor.biz Red Door Interactive

Is your website truly accessible? Today, it is crucial that your site is developed in a way that guarantees all visitors — including those with disabilities — have equal rights to digital inclusion. In fact, by prioritizing accessibility in your website design, you can foster greater inclusivity, broaden your market reach, and mitigate legal risks associated with digital accessibility compliance. And the latter is especially important for the higher education industry, as universities are bound by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires institutions to comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. 

As one of the world's leading public research universities, our prestigious higher education institution client was working with high accessibility standards for all sites associated with the university. So we coupled their deep knowledge of digital accessibility with our web design expertise to create a successful revamp of their News Center website — and ultimately revolutionized our approach to web development.  

The Challenge: Enter Uncharted Territory 

The university’s Communications Department enlisted Red Door’s team of developers to redesign and rebuild their News Center website with an accessible experience at the forefront of their project goals.  

While designing and coding to WCAG 2.1 has become common practice for us, this client had specific expectations for the screen reader user experience. This presented a unique opportunity to evolve our own development capabilities in a short period of time. 

The Approach: Listen & Learn 

Website accessibility is always a focus of our website projects. However, this was the first time our team leveraged the screen reader tool, Voice Over. This client had a team with extensive knowledge of screen reader user experience, and when expectations were misaligned, we set up a series of discovery meetings to solve the problem. With support from our own Manager of Software Development and their accessibility expert, we were able to listen, learn, and further grasp the necessary tasks needed for development. 

The Execution: Screen Reader Integration

After reviewing feedback from several accessibility testing sessions, the university’s accessibility expert and Red Door’s Software Development Manager trained our entire DevOps team on using screen readers. (Screen readers read out text and HTML code to allow people who are visually impaired to engage with online content.) During this process we learned the importance of involving a full-time screen reader user in the early development tests to ensure the product is fully accessible at launch. We then integrated the use of screen readers into our development and Quality Assurance process to proactively deliver an exceptional screen reader experience. 

​​Our DevOps team fully immersed themselves in the experience of navigating a website through a screen reader to better understand the experience of people who are visually impaired. ​By taking and fully embracing the accessibility training, we were able to develop a succinct, complete, and easy-to-navigate UX design for everyone landing on the university’s redesigned news website, which, in turn, set the standard for digital accessibility best practices for future website projects.  

The university’s Director of Digital Strategy, sums it up best:  
“We are grateful for everyone’s work on expanding our accessibility efforts. The website looks amazing, and our expert accessibility consultant is eager to use it as an example moving forward. We’re excited about the final outcome and are confident in our ability to create an optimal experience for all users.” 

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