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Creating future web developers for an accessible world

College researchers, a web company and a local indie band partner to raise awareness for accessible web content

Mohawk College has partnered with an accessible web development company and an indie rock band to teach students how to create a better online experience for Canadians with disabilities.

screen capture of Websites for All webpageMohawk has launched a free online program, available to high school and post-secondary students across the country, that will help participants learn how accessibility and usability can produce a more inclusive web environment.

“Canadians who experience barriers to accessing digital content are not commonly considered by web and content developers,” said Jennifer Jahnke, the coordinator of Mohawk’s Accessible Media Production program and the lead applied researcher on the project. “By introducing inclusive web design skills, we help students experience the Internet through the eyes of our users, who may be using a variety of assistive technologies, or who just experience situational barriers.

“An inclusive web, created with intentional accessible design, benefits all users. We want students to learn this early on in their education.”

Websites for All - The Inclusive Web Project is an on-demand, 90-minute training program that can be completed by students independently or used by teachers as part of a web development curriculum. It is available in French and English.

The project is the result of a 12-month collaboration between Mohawk’s Accessibility Research Lab, students in the college’s Accessible Media Production program, CMS Web Solutions and Hamilton-based indie rock band Silvertone Hills. The program was developed with funding from Canadian Internet Registration Association (CIRA).

“As a web development company focused on accessibility, it’s been an honour to collaborate with Mohawk College to introduce the concepts of usability and accessibility to the next generation of web designers and developers,” said Sandi Gauder, co-founder of CMS Web Solutions, based in Lindsay, Ontario.

Silvertone Hills was an important partner. The indie rock band’s participation brought the project to life. The band allowed the project team to create two sample websites for them, one that was inaccessible and one that followed best practices in accessible web design. The band’s involvement provides a relevant, real world example of this process.

“As a band, providing content is extremely important to keep our fans engaged,” said bandmember Andrew Billone. “I can't imagine the difficulty and frustration people with disabilities feel when being faced with inaccessible technology, so we are glad we could help in any way possible.”

Websites for All is available nationally for free thanks to the support of CIRA’s Community Investment Program, which supports initiatives that build a trusted internet for Canadians. Revenue from the registrations and renewals of .CA domains support CIRA’s Community Investment Program and made it possible for Mohawk to receive an $85,919 grant last year.

"Everyone deserves the full experience of being online, regardless of their background or ability,” said Tanya O'Callaghan, vice president of community investment, policy and advocacy at CIRA. "But for Canadians with disabilities, navigating an increasingly online world can be isolating if websites aren’t developed with them in mind. That’s why we’re proud to support projects like Websites for All, which will help equip designers and developers with the skills they need to create accessible web content for everyone.”

The 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability reported that more than 6 million Canadians, aged 15+, identify as having a disability – it is expected actual numbers are higher. Additionally, provincial legislation, such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), makes it a requirement that public sector organizations and large businesses conform with the global Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0.

In addition to student-focused content, Websites for All also includes resources for teachers such as lesson plans and activity guides that make it easier for educators to integrate the online modules into an existing web development curriculum.

All training modules and educator resources are available for free (in English & French) at https://websitesforall.ca.