The university will soon launch a new Web service for members of the UGA community who have a disability. Called a text transcoder, the new software will be able to produce clear text-only pages for all pages on the uga.edu site. Columns talked to Bert DeSimone (director of communications for Enterprise Information Technology Services), Debra Brenner (assistant director of the Disability Resource Center) and Matoya Jones (assistive technology coordinator of the Disability Resource Center) about the process and hopes for the project.
Columns: I know it’s called a text transcoder-but what does it do?
DeSimone: It dynamically creates text-only versions of all Web pages.
Columns: And why?
Jones: We now have a law about accessibility issues and we’re going to have to start following guidelines. The text transcoder will help people with visual impairments, with carpal tunnel syndrome, with manual dexterity issues, things like that. They will be able to access a Web page and use it in the same ways that other people can.
Columns: When is this going to go into effect?
DeSimone: We have the software now. We are looking at it internally, to make sure there are not any bugs in it and to see what kind of hardware we need for it.
It’s going to be really straightforward once we have it set up. It’s going to be nothing more than creating a link-a URL, a Web address-and all the magic will happen. So the intent is to bring it up in test by March 1 and it will go in effect soon thereafter.
Columns: And this is a private software company.
DeSimone: It’s proprietary-purchased, not open source. The company is Usablenet.
Brenner: And we have purchased not only the software, but also the assistance of the people at Usablenet.
DeSimone: Exactly. What we purchased was their expertise. Because the software does more than just mechanically pulling out the text. It applies some filters.
Jones: To help with formatting, for example. That was the good thing about this software-it deals with all aspects of disabilities, such as deaf and hard-of-hearing readers, all kinds of disabilities.
Brenner: This not only makes a page text only, but it integrates the information so that the text makes sense. Some Web pages have graphic information all over the page, and if you copy and paste the text yourself it’s broken up and scattered. With this software, it is brought back together. And there are control functions-you can enlarge the font, you can do all sorts of things.
Columns: So EITS is going to make this software available to all the units at the university. The university could just require departments to provide a text-only page without giving them this help.
Brenner: Departments are required to do that now-the law has been in effect for several years. In Disability Services we have tried to help departments and divisions understand that they needed to do this. But it often hasn’t been done.
Columns: I suppose many departments don’t really have the resources even to keep their sites up-to-date, let alone produce a text-only version of their pages.
DeSimone: And we have approximately 669,000 pages at UGA. Some automation will make this much more feasible.
People who design Web sites still need to have accessibility in mind. For example, if I haven’t provided alternate text for the images on a page, a reader who is visually impaired is not going to have a sense of what the picture is. This software takes that alternate text and incorporates it into a coherent, logical page.
And if anything changes, the transcoded page changes on the fly. The transcoder is not making pages and then storing them-everything’s done on the fly, dynamically.
Columns: Sounds miraculous.
DeSimone: That’s why we’re testing it out. At EITS we have done a lot of work on this-have purchased a stand-alone server for it to run on, consulted with these folks and some others-and it came out of our budget for this year. It cost about $23,000, and that seemed like a bargain for what it does. Our CIO, Dr. White, was very supportive.
Columns: So what will we have to do for the Columns Web site?
DeSimone: You’ll add a text-only link-a funny-looking URL. Once you put that link on the Columns home page and somebody chooses that link, then all the links on the Columns site will be trafficked through the text transcoder automatically.
Jones: So once you’re in, you’re in.
DeSimone: Using the transcoder might indicate that a department hadn’t paid enough attention to accessibility on their site, so there might be things they will want to change.
Columns: How will they know?
DeSimone: They will be able to review how their page looks when it’s generated. That kind of facility will help all the Web masters on campus. Any Web developer or Web designer has always been aware of the obligation to consider accessibility.
Brenner: And the university as a whole is looking to diversity and inclusion of minorities. People don’t usually think of students with disabilities as a minority, but they are.
Columns: If a department runs its pages through the transcoder and discovers that they have a mess, is there any help available?
DeSimone: UGA’s policies include instructions about how to make your sites accessible, although that’s not human help.
Jones: There is always help. We [Disability Services] are always available to assist other departments on campus with accessibility issues, and I would be the contact person.
Brenner: I am so excited about this-I have to say that. It’s a great service to offer.