Accessibility Online and In The Classroom: Opt-In?

Accessibility in the digital world is becoming increasingly visible, especially on social media platforms. Instagram users with large followings have been including an image description in their captions, and Twitter has a feature to opt-in to create alt text for pictures. This is an incredibly important feature, and I believe rather than opting in a user should have to opt out instead. Methods of accommodation need to be built into the digital world and be intuitive to access. As these practices become more common, the Internet transforms into a more usable and accessible tool.

Image Description: This is a screenshot of the alt text option from Twitter. The top of the screen reads ‘Write alt text,” and the picture uploaded is of a black cat being held by a man. The bottom of the screen requests that the user describes the photo of the cat.

The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative is a digital resource centered on making the Internet more accessible for people with disabilities. THE W3C offers a free Digital Accessibility Foundations course customized to the needs of the user, such as website design, coding, or advocating for accessibility. (Digital Accessibility Foundations Free Online Course) The website within itself offers more information on what web accessibility is and different tools related to web accessibility standards. These standards are divided by different components that engage with each other: web content, user agents, and authoring tools. (Accessibility Principles)

The Web Accessibility Initiative emphasizes how accessibility on the Internet benefits everyone. The following is reinforced through the strategies shared on this website: “The Web is fundamentally designed to work for all people, whatever their hardware, software, language, location, or ability. When the Web meets this goal, it is accessible to people with a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive ability.” (Introduction to Web Accessibility )

The Web Accessibility Initiative website models the principles it advocates for. For content-heavy pages, such as “Accessibility Principles,” information is divided into clear subheadings. There are two buttons at the bottom of the menu, where the user can either go ahead and expand all sections or collapse them. This makes the website’s navigation easier, especially on a mobile device.

Image Description: This is a screenshot from the Web Accessibility Initiative website. At the bottom of the screen, the options to expand text sections or collapse them is visible.

Examples of different accessibility features are described under Tools and Techniques. Some features are more familiar than others, such as captions and audio descriptions. There are other features I had not considered before diving into this website, including easy-to-read text (summaries for passages of text) or word prediction, which I had never before recognized as an example of assistive technology.

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed technology use in the classroom. While I was completing my clinical internship in 2020, I had to sign up for my students to use the class set of laptops about a month in advance; this same school district is now one-to-one, meaning all students are provided with a laptop. The Web Accessibility Initiative will be central to ensuring my digital classroom will be accessible to all of my students. I already have accommodations built into certain aspects of my lessons and materials, such as using captions and transcripts for videos and podcasts. The practice of proactively including academic and technological strategies for accommodation while planning a class is known as universal design. (Academic Accommodations for Students with Learning Disabilities) I have a similar mindset when it comes to both accessibility in the classroom and on the web: accommodation tools and technologies should not be accessed by opting-in, as they should be the default.

Crowdsourcing Project Review: “What’s On The Menu?”

Food history interests even people who didn’t relish history class. Who doesn’t like food? The New York Public Library has an ongoing digital collection of restaurant menus ranging from the 1840s to today, titled “What’s on the menu?” This project explores different restaurants throughout the years, what they served, and the cost of food. It encompasses both economic and cultural histories throughout the decades and is of interest to historians, chefs, and a broader audience as well. It was launched as a digital crowdsourcing project in 2011, and the project of collecting these menus began in 1900.

As of March 2022, there are a total of 17,500 menus uploaded to the database. Menus are organized by decade, and there is a database of every individual dish as well as how many menus they appear on. There are no new menus uploaded, however, there is plenty that needs a second pair of eyes for review. I can’t speak for the ease of the original process of transcribing the menus, however, for reviewing these menus it is a matter of going through the items previously tagged and either approving their transcription or making a quick edit. Transcriptions focus on the name of the dish as well as the price. Anyone can edit these menu transcriptions without creating an account on the website, which was a purposeful choice by NYPL Labs to keep this project accessible. Menus that need to be reviewed can be accessed from the launch page, though there isn’t a search engine to find specific menus.

I reviewed the menu for Savoy Grill, which was dated from the year 1959. It was simple enough to review the transcriptions made by another user, though I found marking the review as completed was a bit more challenging as the link was not as prominent compared to others on the website. The entire review process for this menu took less than an hour. I can see how it would take longer for an individual who created the first transcription for a menu, as each item has to be tagged and labeled. To tag an item, it is as easy as clicking on where it is within the image to add the dish name and price. This requires some precision, or when you go to enter the information the text itself may not be fully visible while you type. Users can indicate if the text was not fully readable in their edit as well.

This is the uploaded menu for Savoy Grill. The green checkmarks indicate where items have been tagged and transcribed.

Overall, this project was easy to navigate and complete. The website design appears to be slightly outdated, however this likely makes it more accessible to older generations contributing to this project. The data is accessible for public use, and downloadable spreadsheets are updated twice a month to reflect the full collection. Looking at menus from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first century is fascinating, and from the vast number of contributors, other people must feel similarly and found this website to be accessible as well. “What’s on the menu?” provides a positive example of a digital crowdsourcing project.

ArcGIS Story Map Review and Classroom Potential

In my undergraduate history education classes, I did not use digital mapping tools due to my experience of being hopelessly confused by the one that was recommended to me by my professor. The map itself was difficult to manipulate and I felt that it was more trouble than it was worth to incorporate the program into one of my lessons. Unfortunately, I was not exposed to more options until recently. My exploration of ArcGIS Story Maps reopened my understanding of how useful and accessible digital map tools can be in history education to visualize data and to gain more geography knowledge.

In ArcGIS StoryMaps, there are several choices of how to present your narrative. In the provided block palette, the map is the most interactive. Users are able to add points on the map that allow them to add an image and a description. The StoryMaps provide an option to number these points so that viewers can navigate through them in a particular order. A line can be drawn between the points on a map, and it can be titled and given a description as well. This function is ideal for a project that focuses on a physical path in history, such as a migration pattern or a campaign trail. Numbering the data on a map can also follow an event chronologically, as seen with this Battle of Gettysburg map (which was created using the same mapmaker found in ArcGis). It is more difficult to save the drawn line compared to individual points, and the save feature is not automatic. The site does provide a number of examples of how other creators used the maps, as well as a comprehensive tutorial to navigate the offered tools. One of the best features of this digital map tool is how the map legend automatically reflects the map itself without further manipulation. One of the best examples of ArcGIS’ legend capabilities can be seen through Jim Herries’s map of redistricting counties in the Exploring the 2020 U.S. Census Data project.

This census data map showcases the capabilities of ArcGIS StoryMaps

The map feature of ArcGis Story Maps provides an avenue of project creation for students in the history classroom while also furthering their understanding of geography via map manipulation. Andrew Wiseman’s article When Maps Lie notes the lack of practice people have analyzing maps as a source that can be distorted and manipulated, associating it with how geography has been excluded from school curriculums for decades. Students have more experience with analyzing articles and written sources for bias and misinformation. There is almost an unspoken authority about maps, which can be addressed by teaching students how they support data. Digital maps such as the one found in ArcGIS StoryMaps can also further facilitate student research. By looking at their data on a map, students will find answers to their questions while identifying patterns to research. Within the StoryMap, students can add more blocks of text for their own analysis as well as link other media and primary sources related to their research. ArcGIS’s map function is versatile enough to be incorporated into multiple units and provides a tool of analysis that has been used by historians and geographers. History students benefit from practicing the methods and tools used by professionals in the field.

“Looking Up”: A Digital Mixtape

Spotify is my go-to platform for music, especially because of how accessible it makes sharing music. My good friends and I often trade playlists of what we are currently listening to or curated moods just for each other. Sharing and creating playlists is intuitive on this platform. Most of the playlists I create for myself are nostalgic nonsense, composed of songs from childhood, from my loved ones, and the ones that charmed me unexpectedly.

“Looking Up” is a playlist of songs that help me get lost in the daily routine, and have marked time for me through the pandemic. The cover picture is from my travels in Europe, where my life seemed to be at its peak. Time kept moving, and I pray the best is yet to come. These songs give me energy for the day and for an escape. “Blue Vacation” and “Easy Thing” represent my moods before the pandemic and before gaining a sense of what they meant, switching from a strong melancholy to simple and easy. “Bored” was for the early pandemic, once the panic subsided and the walls were closing in. “Curses” is a song I enjoy but often zone out for, and it connects to the brain fog that sedates me through many life changes. “Moon Beach” took me back to better times while understanding time continues to move around me while I have stopped, which is more literal since my brother-in-law wrote this song and he was only a fifth-grader when I first met him. I am incredibly proud of his talent and skill. “Can’t Take My Eyes off You” and “11:11” allow me to daydream about romance, and were heavily repeated leading up to my wedding. For the days where I don’t feel like I am on top of the world but I am going to get there, “Don’t Shut Me Down” gets me moving.