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I learned a lot in this course, ranging from exploring new technical skills to learning new concepts that I largely hadn’t considered before taking this class. Out of the four concept exploration/elaborations, the only topic I had ever given any thought to was copyright. So there was a lot of opportunity for learning, and the most important lesson I’m walking away with is…
…the importance of accessibility, particularly in the context of web design.
Being an art history major, I’m very interested in the economy of images that we currently live in. Most art education is only possible because of the pervasiveness of image reproduction. Even though art education and image reproduction is widely available, there are still barriers that prevent people from receiving art education or learning about art appreciation. So one of my big questions in this course was…
…how can we improve access?
Particularly in the context of my longform project, I started thinking about different situations that might prevent people from receiving access to art education in the traditional sense. At first I was primarily concerned with the first two, which have more to do with the inability to access physical art institutions due to financial means or because of the structure of galleries and museums themselves, which can feel very sterile and can give off an elitist vibe which is part of what turns a lot of people off to exhibitions. They also tend to take art objects out of context to be able to display them, so in some cases if you’re not walking in knowing a lot of background information on the work being displayed because you’re not a connoisseur or curator then that’s a barrier to your ability to learn in depth about the work. So my thought in the longform project was to break down those two barriers specifically by moving the gallery space into a more accessible digital space. What I hadn’t considered before learning about web accessibility, though, was that even digital spaces can be difficult to access for people who experience various kinds of impairment.
So I started thinking, the whole point of my project is to improve access to art education, so how can I do that for people who experience visual impairment? That was really the most difficult task to take on, since art education hosted online is largely a visual experience.
So my concept exploration/elaboration and the readings for it, particularly the Quesenbery and Horton book, really helped teach me the most about optimizing site design for web accessibility. I did some reading up on assistive technologies, particularly screen readers, and made a little infographic about how they work, how accessible the screen readers themselves are…
…and added some notes on how web designers can keep assistive technologies in mind when building their sites to make site navigation and content access easier for everyone. To look at how this might look for an online exhibition and education space…
…I looked at what the Center for Fine Art Photography does. I saw some things they did well, like for the most part having high-contrast text to make content easier to read, and other things they didn’t do well, like none of the images of artworks they post have “alt” tags and the captions are pretty minimal and not descriptive, so someone relying on a screen reader to find out what the images are might not be able to find out what these images are.
So this was a launching point for me to think about what I could do differently in my project to improve accessibility. What could I do differently in my web space?
How can I do that? By paying attention to every design decision I make. So this is a screenshot of the home page of my online exhibition space. I started off by taking a long time to find a site template that had high contrast, where images and text would be large and it would be navigated easily.
This is where our earlier work in learning HTML and CSS really came in handy. This is some of the code I wrote for a very early mockup of the site, just to experiment. Wordpress lets you do a fair amount in HTML customization, but you do have to pay to be able to get a lot more control over the design, so I worked with what I had to be able to improve my site.
I made sure to not only add alt tags to images, but also to add descriptive captions in the posts. I’ve been trying to figure out how to drop CSS in here to get a little bit more control over the design and improve keyboard navigation for the benefit of users with motor impairment, but that’s still a work in progress.
So learning about web accessibility completely changed my outlook on making art education truly accessible for everyone and has made me completely reconsider site design. As I continue on into post-grad education and my career this is a lesson I plan to incorporate into all of my projects.