Ascents in Accessibility

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Ascents in Accessibility

Ascents in Accessibility

The Penn Libraries digital services are built to address the needs of users who operate a wide range of devices and assistive technologies. While the principles of web accessibility have always played a central role in the web unit’s design strategy, the team wanted to further its commitment to creating highly usable and accessible web experiences for all site visitors. Over the past year, the web unit has made great strides in the realm of web accessibility, gaining additional expertise and creating opportunities for staff across the Libraries to get involved. 

A Celebration of Women Writers

Through a project proposed and overseen by Leslie Vallhonrat, the libraries made a collection of about 800 works by women authors more accessible to non-sighted users. The A Celebration of Women Writers site, created and maintained by Mary Mark Ockerbloom and served by Penn Libraries, is a fully open resource that provides access to online editions of works covering 5000 years of women authors. Members of the metadata team diligently edited the web pages to write and add text descriptions for thousands of images required for anyone who reads the page using a screen reader. The experience enabled the project participants to gain valuable skills in authoring accessible HTML and provided a meaningful opportunity for staff to aid in providing equitable access to library materials.

The Celebration of Women Writers “alt text” project is just one of many accessibility-related achievements for Leslie. During the March 2021 meeting of the Accessibility and Learning Technologies group, Leslie was recognized for her longstanding dedication to accessibility and was unanimously selected to become a part of the group’s newly formed steering committee.

Accessibility Certification

Last summer, we convened a 12-week study group to cover the material to prepare for accessibility certification offered by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP). Members of the web unit along with staff from the Annenberg Library, Libraries Courseware Support, Impact and Assessment, Penn Medicine, University Communications, and Wharton attended training sessions. The material covered in the IAAP Web Accessibility Specialist certification is designed to give people a deeper understanding of how web pages are structured, how web applications incorporate multimedia or interactive elements, and how assistive technologies interact with them. The study group also took a deeper dive into the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which is the standard adhered to across the university.

As a result of the study group sessions, the University of Pennsylvania now has two certified professionals on its staff. Min Zhong is a Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC) and Nikitas Tampakis is a Certified Professional in Web Accessibility (CPWA). Members from the group presented about their experiences at the recent university IT Staff Convention. The web unit is continuing to learn by participating in a similar study group facilitated by Princeton and Rutgers University which currently meets twice a month via the public Meetup.com platform.

Looking Ahead

The Technology and Digital Initiatives division has recently turned its attention to video and audio accessibility. Building upon the university’s guidelines for captioning, two teams have been formed to set policies and provide resources that ensure an equivalent experience for users who rely on a text version of publicly hosted multimedia content. The group's goal is to define new workflows for the creation of transcripts and captions when publishing new videos and audio files. At the same time, we are auditing older multimedia content to inform a strategy of enhancing content that has auto-generated captions.

About the Author

Nikitas in a blue-collared shirt
Nikitas Tampakis
Director of Application Development

Nikitas manages the digital library development team, provides technical vision for the main library website, and steers the development of sustainable user-centered, accessible online services. Nikitas is an advocate of collaborative open-source software solutions and is a contributor to the open-source Blacklight discovery platform.

Before coming to Penn, Nikitas worked at the Princeton University Library as a software developer, enhancing access to print and digital collections in the online catalog and other discovery applications. Nikitas holds a bachelor’s degree from Princeton in computer science with minors in linguistics, Hellenic, and Italian studies.

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Nikitas Tampakis