Posts by Tyler
This past week, I had the chance to attend SACS-COC and sit in on some great sessions to learn more about the issues that our campus partners face every day. As a web designer here at OrgSync, the one session that really interested me was “Value-Added Web Accessibility – It’s Not Just For Disability Services Anymore.” The title alone was enough to get me in the room because I truly believe that accessibility has to be an initiative that everyone is a part of, not just an afterthought in the process of getting content onto the web.
In the past, we’ve talked about how OrgSync is constantly striving to be as accessible as possible, but now I’d like to address how you can help us reach that goal. Some of the most commonly used tools of OrgSync allow users to upload and create content or to link to external content. No matter how much optimization we do on our end, content created and added by our users could be inaccessible to students with disabilities. This is not an easy issue to solve, but after this conference I’m more enthusiastic than ever about the future of accessibility on the web.
The session I attended was led by Cyndi Rowland, the director of GOALS (Gaining Online Accessible Learning through Self Study). GOALS is a very interesting program led in conjunction with SACS-COC. This program is a well-developed plan to help institutions become more accessible.
Web accessibility must be a system-wide endeavor. The interconnected nature of the web requires that an individual navigate around a site, not a page. Thus, the most accessible web page in the world is still inaccessible if a user with disabilities must navigate inaccessible pages to get to it. With this in mind, Project GOALS (Gaining Online Accessible Learning through Self-Study) has developed a web-based Benchmarking and Planning Tool that capitalizes on institutional opportunities for self-study and continuous improvement.
This web-based tool can help an institution engage in and evaluate its performance on system-wide web accessibility efforts, and assist in creation of a plan for improvement.
I’d invite you to check out more about the program here as they are still looking for institutions to participate in a trial.
The cool thing that GOALS is doing is taking into account your entire web presence — because while the index of your institution’s website may be completely accessible, it’s the resources, documents, links, secondary and tertiary pages hidden deep in your navigation that are going to fail for students with disabilities.
The NCDAE (National Center on Disability and Access to Education) has published these great cheatsheets that provide some tips on how to make your most commonly used documents as accessible as possible. This would be a great resource for administrators, professors, student leaders, and anyone else who creates content on your campus. It’s also important to let content creators know the importance of maintaining accessibility all the time as a normal practice. Nearly 10 percent of people have some sort of disability when it comes to accessing content on the internet—the advantages of engaging those individuals are huge!
I personally loved the comment: “There are two groups of institutions out there: those that have been in lawsuits for ADA compliance and those that are waiting to be.”
But that’s not the true reason we should be pushing to be more accessible: accessibility can also play a role in your institution’s accreditation plan. Accessibility is vital for the first-year experience, achieving diversity, technology initiatives, advising, remediation, and retention. Most importantly, accessibility speaks to your institution’s mission, because achieving accessibility goals supports diversity and greater inclusion of all your students. We’d love to hear your thoughts on how you’ve made accessibility a priority or how accessibility operates as a goal on your campus.
As of July 15th OrgSync will no longer be providing official support for Internet Explorer 7. The roar you just heard was our developers cheering. (We actually take this decision seriously so read on to find out why we need to do this.)
Why do we have to do this?
IE 7 was originally released in October 2006 and as you can imagine, there have been vast improvements in web technology since that date. The techniques needed to build a modern application rely on a number of different technologies in the browser and IE 7 is a large impedence to our continued development.
What does this actually mean?
This does NOT mean the site suddenly will not work for an IE 7 user. What this does mean is that IE7 will not be checked or tested for compatibility when we roll out newer portions of the website. So, as we add features the site might become progressively less useful in those areas.
How does this make OrgSync better for me?
Not having to support IE 7 will make our development team much faster. Supporting this older browser can almost double the time of certain projects when we write code. We’re also going to have access to some browser features that weren’t accessible before because we couldn’t support them universally; these minor (and some not so minor) enhancements will make browsing the app faster, cleaner and more intuitive.
What do we recommend for a browser?
The main thing is to stay modern. We’re at a great point now where the modern browsers do updating behind-the-scenes so you don’t even know you’re downloading the latest version of a browser, it just works. Chrome and Firefox are our favorites because of their regular release cycles and the fact that they comply with the internationally agreed upon web standards more so than Internet Explorer. If you do use Internet Explorer try to get IE 9 (and in the very near future version 10 will be out) for the best IE browsing experience.
So if it’s been a a while since your last update, we encourage you to get the latest version of your favorite browser. There are many to choose from:
If you are wondering how we came to this decision, most major web companies dropped IE 7 support long ago (Google for example did so a year ago). We know our clients have different technology needs so we waited until IE 7 made up just a tiny fraction of our user base before we had to make the change. There have been many pain points extending our support for this browser for so long. If you have any feedback or concerns please let us know.
Thanks, and the development team hopes that you have an awesome Memorial Day Weekend.
The graphic at the top is great drawing by the artist Shoze
By now you’ve seen the new OrgSync.com and we are still pretty excited about it so we wanted to give you a little insight to what it took to get this new website out the door, from beginning to end.
First off, it’s been a long time coming, and most of that time was spent discussing a few of our design challenges such as how to encompass the breadth of what OrgSync does while keeping it simple, as well as balancing the need to inform students and current users while also marketing our services to prospective clients.
It all starts on the whiteboard…
We wrote on whiteboards, scratch paper, even the windows in the office… at some point in the process most every member of the OrgSync team drew out a page or an idea. Lots of ideas got thrown away, some got kept, some got pulled out of the recycle bin and came back to life months later.
Let’s just say the way to lay out the site navigation was something that people were passionate about — many a coffee, red bull and late night fajita was consumed discussing that issue.
After the whiteboarding step we went straight to a rapid prototype, which means we started writing code, putting it together from scratch and then letting people play with it. As pieces of the site were agreed upon that prototype slowly got fleshed out with more concrete details and was built up piece by piece to be the site you see before you.
Here are a few of the iterations of the mockups:
When the design was pretty much agreed upon we brought in the big gun developers to help develop this site from the ground up. We needed a new server, a new code base and a new way to let our marketing team update content on the website without knowing any code. So we let them go at it, building a content management system to power the new OrgSync.com as well as making all our little pages connect to each other and work together.
We built this front-end website with the same technology we use in our backend in order to speed development and maintain consistency. However, because this site is less mission-critical than our application we were able to use a cutting-edge version of ruby-on-rails which would be unstable and untested on the backend. We also got real excited about some of the nerdier aspects of the process such as making sure the code was as clean as can be, which will let us iterate the site quickly. The lessons we learned when building OrgSync.com are now getting rolled into the main application and you may not see them immediately but improvements are being made behind the scenes that are going to let us move even faster in the future.
We’ve gone responsive.
One of those new things we tried out is responsive design – one of the buzzwords thats taken over the web design community in the last couple of months. Responsive Design is a design that isn’t built for one device specifically but built to expand and contract based on what a user is using to access the site. So go open OrgSync.com in a new window, grab the corner of your browser and shrink the site down. Go on, we’ll wait while you do it.
See how the site shifts and changes as you shrink/expand it? That’s responsive. The real power comes from mobile web access. In today’s market there’s an infinite number of screen sizes. If we built a mobile website with the old way of doing things we would probably build for iPhone (because that’s where the majority of web browsing goes on) — but now we just built for every version of the iPhone, every android device, every tablet out there — basically you can get OrgSync.com on anything. Soon you’ll see these techniques in certain parts of the application as well, such as all the emails we send from the application which will look better on all devices.
We’ve still got more coming, it’s in the pipeline that will be evolving the site, so stay tuned.