Working for a governmental institution in the State of California (please don’t ask me about our future governor…), web accessibility has been on my mind of late.

I am a member of our campus’ Web Accessibility Group, and we a charged with coming up with a plan to make our extensive, and frankly, poorly designed campus website accessible. This is a daunting task, to say the least.

I bring this up because I am in the somewhat privelidged position of being a web designer with access to JAWS. I have the ability to test my sites in a lab on campus set up for use by students with disabilities. I also have the 40 minute demo set up on several machines in our shop, where we have 3 staff an 15 student assistants (all sighted) making websites and courseware for faculty.

I must agree with Kynn Bartlett’s article Maccessibility: A Web Designer’s Guide to JAWS, in that learning to use JAWS would take me at least a week, with my monitor turned off. Listening to a website is a very eye-opening experience, and the first thing I realize is that I have no idea how to follow a link, go back, skip to content, etc. if I wanted to.

That said, I find the 40 minute demo extremely useful if I just point it to a page and read through it, making sure all the content makes sense, that alt tags provide enough information, etc. And I also find that if I code to WCAG specs that my pages usually make sense in JAWS, as David Shea suggests.

The next step is to get a focus group together of students & faculty who use JAWS or other screen readers. Asking them to help us test the sites is really the only way to find out if they’re truly accessible. This is a goal for our WAG group this year.