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'Easy to understand for everybody:' DSU aims to make website more accessible

The communications and public affairs department at Dickinson State University is working with the company Siteimprove to make the university's website accessible to everyone and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. "We want to mak...

Josh Nichols, website communications specialist at Dickinson State University, explains the program he uses to determine the website's readability. (Kayla Henson / The Dickinson Press)
Josh Nichols, website communications specialist at Dickinson State University, explains the program he uses to determine the website's readability. (Kayla Henson / The Dickinson Press)

The communications and public affairs department at Dickinson State University is working with the company Siteimprove to make the university's website accessible to everyone and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"We want to make the website something everybody can go to and use, and that's regardless of whether you have an impairment or not," said Josh Nichols, website communications specialist.

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which was founded in 1994 by the web's creator, Tim Berners-Lee, creates standards for the web, including readability.

Siteimprove scans DSU's website for compliance and the staff makes changes accordingly.

"Some of the changes that we've made ... most people probably wouldn't even notice," said Marie Moe, executive director of communications and public affairs. "We darkened the blue, which created more of a contrast for the text over it. Most people wouldn't notice that, but it matters to somebody who needs that contrast."

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One of the biggest changes they will be making targets readability. The program determines the Flesch-Kincaid reading level for each of the website's pages and provides information about the factors that contribute to the level, such as long sentences and words with multiple syllables.

Some of the pages on the website are on a 17 grade reading level - that of a college graduate. A lot of the content is generated by professors.

"When they're writing, they're writing from a dissertation standpoint," Nichols said. "They're looking at some of the terminology they use in their own research ... and sometimes for the average perspective student it's a bit difficult, much less if you have some of these assisted readers (who) are struggling reading a word that has maybe 17 syllables or something like that."

They intend to lower those upper reading levels to accommodate the website's typical audience.

"If our primary audience is perspective students, they're probably in high school," Moe said. "If our secondary audience is current students, they're going to be in that college freshman to senior range. So I think a good goal for us would be to be in that high school to first two years of college range."

To get there, they will run a report of all the pages on the website that are above an 11th- grade reading level.

"We're going to take a look at the most difficult-to-read pages, start with those first, and then kind of move down," Nichols said.

The communications staff will rewrite much of the content. If it's a page belonging to one of the university's departments, they will alert the faculty in that department and let them make the necessary changes.

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"It's not trying to make the website any easier or more difficult for one particular person," Nichols said. "The website should be easy to understand for everybody."

Related Topics: DICKINSON STATE UNIVERSITY
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