As blogs continue to provide a low barrier to entry for authors to distribute content in all avenues from academia to entertainment, it is important to make sure that blog posts are just as easy to access for readers. Here at Illinois, our blogs are run through publish.illinois.edu, a WordPress-based publishing service. As we try to improve our services for all, especially our remotely available services, I wanted to use this week’s Commons Knowledge post to discuss improving accessibility in WordPress. Within the platform, making more accessible blog posts isn’t difficult nor does it require much time; however, building these practices into our workflow allows for posts to be accessible—not just for some, but for all.
In this monthly series, I share a combination of cool data visualizations, useful tools and resources, and other visualization miscellany. The field of data visualization is full of experts who publish insights in books and on blogs, and I’ll be using this series to introduce you to a few of them. You can find previous posts by looking at the Exploring Data Visualization tag.
1) Two Northeastern University professors visualized immigration data for National Geographic by creating a fascinating chart that looks a lot like the growth rings of a tree. They write, “Like countries, trees can be hundreds, even thousands, of years old. Cells grow slowly, and the pattern of growth influences the shape of the trunk. Just as these cells leave an informational mark in the tree, so too do incoming immigrants contribute to the country’s shape.”
2) Accessibility is important in all kinds of communication, and data visualization is no exception. But it’s not always obvious how to make visualizations more accessible. You can find several tips for improving your visualization in “Accessible data viz is better data viz.”
3) Urban planning postdoc Geoff Boeing used open map data to create a series of polar histograms that demonstrate how the streets in various U.S. cities do or don’t follow a neat grid. It’s a great example of a visualization that looks intriguing and also packs a lot of information. Learn more about it in his blog post, Comparing City Street Orientations.
I hope you enjoyed this data visualization news! If you have any data visualization questions, please feel free to email me and set up an appointment at the Scholarly Commons.
Accessibility in the digital age can be difficult for people to understand, especially given the sheer amount of ways to present information on the computer. However, creating content that is accessible to all individuals should be a priority for researchers. Creating accessible documents is an easy process, and the Scholarly Commons has the software you need to make that happen.
Optical character recognition software (otherwise known as OCR) has the ability to convert scanned documents, PDF documents, and image documents into editable and searchable documents. Documents that have gone through OCR software can then be recognized by, and read through screen reader software. Screen readers are tools oftentimes used by those with visual impairments; they convert textual content into ‘synthesized’ speech, which is then read aloud to the user.
One trick to see whether or not a digital document is accessible is to try to highlight a line of text and then copy-paste it into another document. If you can successfully do that, your document is ready to be read by a screen reader. If you cannot highlight a single line of text and/or copy-paste it, you may want to consider putting your document through OCR software. However, if you have a “protected” PDF, you will not be able to reformat the document for accessibility.
OCR readers can read more than just digital documents – they are powerful tools that can also perform their function on scanned documents, either typed or handwritten. That is not to say that they are infallible, however. OCR software may have difficulties reading documents created before 1850, and may not always be 100% accurate. The user must be vigilant to make sure that mistakes don’t creep their way into the final product.
The Scholarly Commons is outfitted with two OCR programs: ABBY FineReader, and Adobe Acrobat. To read more on the specifics of each software, see the ABBY FineReader LibGuide or Adobe Acrobat’s Guide to OCR. There are also numerous options online for PDF readers online — look around and find the option that works best for you. Just a little time with this user-friendly software can make not only your research accessible, but to make the world a little more accessible as a whole.
Don’t Make Me Think Revisited by Steve Krug is yet another updated classic available at Scholarly Commons and online as an e-book. Steve Krug of Advanced Common Sense talks about usability, which he defines as when “A person of average (or even below average) ability and experience can figure out how to use the thing to accomplish something without it being more trouble than it’s worth” (Krug 2014). Clearly inspired by The Design of Everyday Things, this short book is funny, full of examples, and easy to read. Throughout this book, Krug hopes to convince you that usability is an important aspect of web design and that doing usability testing can help you create better websites and apps.
Despite the title, this book made me re-think about websites, both with practical advice such as:
His “Facts of Life”:
- “We don’t read pages. We scan them.
- We don’t make optimal choices. We satisfice.
- We don’t figure out how things work. We muddle through.
As well as his Three Laws of Usability:
- “Don’t make me think!”
- “It doesn’t matter how many times I have to click, as long as each click is a mindless, unambiguous choice.”
- “Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.”
And after insisting that what will work for a website really depends on the context throughout the book, he did provide a few usability definitive answers such as:
“Don’t use small, low-contrast type.”
“Preserve the distinction between visited and unvisited text links.” (Krug, 2014)
What’s more, in this book about website development, he emphasizes empathy and being a decent human being. He describes people who create poorly designed webpages with: “There’s almost always a plausible rationale – and a good, if misguided, intention -behind every usability flaw” (Krug, 2014) He also says that web developers should work harder to make websites more accessible and that “ …the one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives…How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our job a little better? And for those of you who don’t find this argument compelling, be aware that even if you haven’t already encountered it, there will be a legislative stick coming sooner or later. Count on it” (Krug, 2014).
Convinced you need to start doing usability studies? Scholarly Commons can help! Check out more information about conducting usability studies at our Usability Studies page, and feel free to email us to learn more about getting started.
This is definitely a quick introductory read on the topic of usability but throughout Krug recommends a lot of further reading available online through the library! Don’t forget to take a look at some of these other titles:
Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works by Ginny Redish.
Forms that Work: Designing Web Forms for Usability by Caroline Jarrett.
“Attention Web Designers: You Have 50 Milliseconds to Make a Good First Impression!” by Gitte Lindgaard, Gary Fernandes, Cathy Dudek, and J. Brown.
Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug.
Guidelines for Accessible and Usable Web Sites: Observing Users Who Work With Screen Readers by Mary Frances Theofanos and Janice (Ginny) Redish.
A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences by Sarah Horton and Whitney Queensbery.
Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance by Jim Thatcher et. al.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.