Navigating Web Accessibility: Lessons Learned from a Community of Practice

The American Disability Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on disability, its website does not provide legal details on complying with US web accessibility laws, only suggestions.

Dannell MacIlwraith
Assistant Professor
Kutztown University

Our college dove deep into a Community of Practice (CoP) on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the 2022-2023 academic year. Higher education has embraced CoPs to encourage change and provide opportunities for faculty growth. They build community, enhance cross-discipline collaboration, promote new knowledge, and foster innovation among faculty. Our college asked faculty from different departments and majors to volunteer to meet monthly to discuss improving the DEI in one of their courses or a specific project. In my Interactive Design class, I investigated a website redesign project. My curiosity lay in how much students prioritized accessibility in their designs and their understanding of web accessibility. Our emphasis revolved around acquiring knowledge of practices and tools aiding user accessibility, evaluating internet connection speed, and catering to the needs of the visually impaired. These themes formed the focal points of our group discussions and research.

In the United Kingdom and Canada, web accessibility is required by law. In the United States, the American Disability Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on disability. Still, its website does not provide legal details on complying with US web accessibility laws, only suggestions. In the United States, class action suits for ADA violations are on the rise. In 2019, 2285 lawsuits were filed, an increase of 181% from the previous year. Most cases have been settled out of court, with companies agreeing to make the necessary changes to their website. My presentation will demonstrate how my research examined several of these lawsuits (including Netflix and Dominos) and how a better, more inclusive communication design would have avoided these problems.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are recommendations for making online content accessible and more inclusive. The advice is for websites to be:

  • perceivable,
  • operable,
  • understandable,
  • and robust.

In my presentation, I will detail how a Community of Practice (COP) facilitated my examination of our class project while guiding students to assess their designs using WCAG recommendations. For example, for a site to be understandable, users “must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface.” To maximize the understandability of text, designers should avoid using pure black (HEX #000000) for text, as it makes the eyes work harder due to the extreme contrast on a white background. Another example is being mindful of colorblind individuals and how websites would appear to anyone with a visual impairment.

I aim to illustrate to designers how minor design adjustments can significantly enhance a website’s inclusivity.

This design research is presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 10.3: Tenth Anniversary, St. John’s University (Hybrid) on Friday, June 7, 2024.