8-Step Implementation Model
Step 6: Provide Training and Technical Support

The Importance of Training and Technical Support

It is not hard to make web sites accessible. If you know how to do it, it is usually quite easy. The problem is that the majority of web developers do not know most of the basic web accessibility techniques. They probably know how to make a web page work across browsers and platforms. They probably know how to write JavaScript code that can validate forms. They probably know all kinds of tricks of the trade to make web sites more attractive, more functional, and more impressive. They are less likely to have such breadth or depth of knowledge in disability access issues, however.

When starting to implement web accessibility policies at an organization, you can do it in at least two different ways. You can make it sound as if web accessibility is an issue that is completely separate from "normal" web design, or you can make it sound as if accessibility is just one of many web skills that developers must learn. You'll probably have more success with the latter approach. Web accessibility is not some strange add-on to Web design. It is not an annoying task on a list of chores. It is central to the whole concept of web design, just as much as HTML is, or graphical design, or JavaScript.

Important

Web accessibility is similar to the concept of cross-browser compatibility. Think of web accessibility as cross-user compatibility.

Once you have support from the organization, policies and plans in place, as well as a baseline of your current situation, the next step is to provide training and technical assistance for those who place content on the web. Training is a critical element in the implementation and success of your coordination efforts. Web accessibility may be a brand new issue for many who will be responsible for its implementation. The training and support you provide will be absolutely necessary to help them fulfill the policies that have been established.

Identify your audience

It is important to identify those who place content on your organization's web site. As you design your training and support mechanisms, please be aware of the skills of these individuals. Situations can arise where anyone with web development skills or the desire to learn these skills are given responsibilities to create and post web content on the organizations web site. Some of these individuals may be professional web developers, such as in-house web design staff or outside design contractors. Some of these individuals may be less technically-savvy, such as faculty or other support staff in educational settings that wish to explore web design and, in return, provide a "free" service to their workgroup or department. Some may be students hired for a single term or for one year. Other individuals may be neighbors, friends, and children. Anyone with skills to write in a markup language (e.g., HTML), or understand authoring tools, or course/content management systems can be given the task to design and develop elements of a web site. In large organizations, it is difficult to organize the large number of individuals that develop and place web content onto the web servers. If the organization cannot easily identify these individuals, it is unlikely that it can provide the necessary direction, support, training, and monitoring for accessibility.

In addition, although accessibility fixes may not be a difficult task for those who are technically skilled, new techniques and content can provide some initial confusion. You will want to create a structure in your organization that is supportive of implementing these changes and not merely request change in the absence of support. The training and resources you provide must be as clear as the standards you wish your developers to follow. Web accessibility can be a complex process, but it is simplified with good training and ongoing support.

Questions to ask yourself

It's very important at this stage to know who needs to be included in all training and monitoring. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Do you know all the designers who may be working on your institutional Web site throughout all departments?
  • Who could get you a comprehensive list of these individuals?
  • Once this list is formed, how could you keep it up-to-date?
  • Will you require certification? If so, who will track the certification of all campus Web designers?

There are many other important questions to consider at this stage, once you know the demographics of your designers. For example:

  • Will you conduct training in-house or will you outsource?
  • Will your training be live or online?
  • How long will the training be?
  • How often will it be conducted?
  • What specific groups and skill levels do you need to target?
  • How will you form these groups and how will you know who fits where? Will you select them or will they place themselves?
  • How will you be sure that all topics (including reasons for accessibility, standards at your institution, as well as specific coding and multimedia strategies) will be covered in this training?
  • Who will be in charge of updating materials as standards change?

Areas of training

You should focus training in three primary areas; the issues of web accessibility, your institution's personal standards, and the coding and multimedia strategies and techniques.

Web accessibility issues

It would be reasonable to create a workshop that would focus merely on accessible HTML (or other code techniques) and multimedia. These are the techniques needed by designers to create accessible content. However, in order to help designers and faculty understand why they need to design and develop accessibly, it is valuable to help them first understand the broad issues of accessibility.

  1. Understanding the perspectives of users with disabilities is critical. Often, if web designers really understand what these individuals face, the designers will embrace this perspective and internalize many of the changes at an intuitive level. Introducing staff to the personal stories of individuals with disabilities within your organization (if any) can be a powerful experience for Web developers as well. Simulations and videos, in combination with live interviews or panels can be another powerful aspect of your training. Help those involved answer questions such as; "What population is benefited by an accessible Internet? What problems do they face without it? How can these problems be overcome?" Having an experience with those who struggle with the Internet helps promote a greater desire to change professional practices.
  2. Understanding the incentives for implementing web accessibility, the reasons of ethics, business and law, can also motivate them to initial acceptance and help them effect change.

The organization's standards

It is also essential that all parties involved understand, not only the reasons for accessibility in general, but your organization's choice of standards. When web developers clearly understand the exact regulations of compliance chosen for your organization, they are more likely to effectively fulfill their commitments to web accessibility. Consider training in the following ways:

  • Include specific wording of the web accessibility policy of your own institution.
  • Provide contact information for people so they can ask questions of those in charge.
  • Make specific dates and schedules for training available on the current institutional policy or plan.

Planning Your Training

As far as an overall plan for training and technical support, many factors must be taken into consideration. Will you create the actual training in-house or will you outsource? Will you need separate training for designers and content developers (e.g. those who write the text that goes on the web pages as opposed to the HTML behind it)? In what areas will you specifically need to train? It is important that you consider the unique needs of each group. Even within groups, there will be different levels of need. Developers are more likely to need training in both multimedia and coding techniques, whereas most content developers will benefit more from knowing how to optimize the tools they use, such as PDF files, PowerPoint, or how to make accessibility workarounds for a content management system or course management system (such as Blackboard or WebCT).

One good place to start making plans for training is conducting a survey of the accessibility knowledge and skills among those who will be involved. Questions could address what they know about the issues, as well as specific coding techniques. These skills and knowledge might also be discovered as the baseline study is performed for your organization. Understanding the needs of your web developers and content developers is valuable to create and tailor training.

Other decisions to make with regards to training involve resources and methods of delivery, timing and accountability. Will the training be conducted face-to-face or online? Will online resources be provided that link to valuable, informational web sites? Will all content developers and web developers have a point-of-contact for answers that cannot be found in manuals or on the Internet?

General web accessibility concerns:

  • Include a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page with common problems and solutions, as well as links to additional information and support

The concept or issue of web accessibility:

  • Include a list of connected pages that go through all the reasons why a web site should be accessible. Cover business, ethics, and the law.
  • Include articles and research on web accessibility
  • Include a page listing all disabilities and also provides links for more information on the impact of web accessibility to those specific disabilities
  • Include links and descriptions of relevant legislation, legal documents and publications pertaining to accessibility

Specific coding and multimedia techniques, strategies and concerns:

  • Include a page of steps indicating a best method for how you can be sure your site is accessible
  • Include a list of specific and valuable links pointing to specific solutions to specific coding or multimedia problems. Be certain the list is clear on what issues are being addressed
  • Include a listserv option which sends out regular updates on accessibility
  • Include before and after examples of some of their pages so they can see what needs to be fixed and just how easy some of these changes can be made
  • Include a list of accessibility testing tools
  • Include online tutorials or reference manuals to supplement training and to help in responding to questions and concerns