Website Accessibility

By Em Hall, Museum Intern | October 19, 2020

This summer, Em Hall partnered with the Museum through a virtual internship with the Museology graduate program at the University of Washington. The subject of her internship was web accessibility. She writes about her experience in the blog post below.

In truth, I entered the internship with some nervousness around the digital world. Prior to this opportunity, my experiences as a museology student were based in the physical spaces of museums, and so a website felt like new and intimidating terrain. As I settled in, though, I became really excited about how much I could do.

My internship ended up having three major components: transcriptions, HTML coding, and the creation of web accessibility guides for the projects I worked on. They were all fascinating, but the HTML coding had to be the most exciting aspect for me. Specifically, I got to explore how well the website’s coding worked with screen readers for people who can’t process webpages visually. Below is a portion of the website’s HTML code, which determines how the site looks and functions for all users.

As you might know, a screen reader is a piece of software that reads computer screens out loud for the user. The unique thing about them is that they read every part of a website—not just the text on the page. They tell the user when they’re scrolling over an image or when something is a link, and so on; they translate all of those visual elements into words. Some of this translation process is built into screen readers (like their ability to know when something is a link), but some of it is up to the HTML coding of the website. This is really important in the arena of web accessibility because it determines how efficiently someone can navigate a site with a screen reader, and what information they have access to.

In my efforts to dig into this topic, I spent the first weeks of my internship doing a lot of research and actually using a screen reader to get around the website, myself.  From there, I moved on to a comprehensive image audit, wherein I compiled a list of all 150+ images spread across the website along with information about where they’re located, how they’re currently coded, and how that coding aligns with “best practices” in the field of web accessibility. I realized that most images online – not only at Bainbridge, but across the web – are coded in a way that makes sense for people with sight, but not a lot of sense for anyone navigating with a screen reader. A few dozen revelations later, I ended up with hundreds of recommendations for the website.

There were a lot of reasons that this work was exciting to me, but a lot of it comes down to gaining new perspective and new skills alongside it. I have learned a tremendous amount, and I am walking away from this internship feeling inspired by BIHM’s commitment to accessibility. I want to express my gratitude to the museum for this chance to learn and grow together. Thank you to Brianna Kosowitz for helping to create this opportunity, to Merilee Mostov for her oversight and guidance, and to David Thorne and Virginia Rice for their extensive work on the website, which provided a wonderful foundation to work from.

If you or your organization would like to know more about my work on this project, you can contact me at [email protected].