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Commission on Disability focuses on website accessibility, goals gleaned from public forum

by | Feb 27, 2024 | Featured: News, News

The Commission on Disability at its meeting Monday night learned important tools for website accessibility from commissioner and Select Board member Amy Ritterbusch.

Ritterbusch, who works as a software and web analyst for the Wellesley Public Schools, gave a presentation on how to create websites that are more amenable for use by people with disabilities such as vision and hearing impairments, learning disabilities, ADHD and dyslexia. She noted that schools have a legal obligation to ensure that people with disabilities have the same access to and can enjoy the same benefits as their non-disabled peers.

One challenge that Ritterbusch said she has encountered in her work is that while the district website she maintains follows parameters such as easy-to-read fonts and sparing use of colors, teachers often design their own pages. There has been “a learning curve” about how the use of bright or pastel colors or more artistic fonts can be hard to read as well as for audio software to decipher.

“Universal design benefits everyone, not just people with disabilities,” she stressed. She noted that it also helps people who need documents translated into other languages.

Added Ritterbusch: “Keep it simple.”

“Presentation means nothing if half the people can’t read it,” said vice chair Alex Danahy.

Documents need to be accessible on all types of electronic devices. Ritterbusch pointed out that sometimes documents are more difficult to read on a phone or a tablet. She said not everyone nowadays has a computer. Captions are crucial.

Images should be described in alternate text boxes for those who cannot view them. Picture descriptions can be added with settings in WordPress, Google Docs and X, formerly known as Twitter, and on Facebook.

PDFs have several readability issues, particularly if they include tables. The text can be blurry and not compatible with voice software, and the number of clicks to connect with information can be frustrating.

Ritterbusch pointed out that some changes to the town and school websites have been helpful in increasing accessibility in the past couple of years. For example, the town website can be adjusted for contrast, to highlight links and to enlarge text, which is helpful for those who have visual impairments. There also is a setting for text that is dyslexia friendly.

One problem Danahy experienced was trying to see the entire list of departments on his phone when he viewed the town website. It limited his range to only a few of the names.

The town’s new Laserfiche system for agendas has been a major improvement., according to Ritterbusch. Another helpful tool is the calendar of meetings links to Google Docs. Older town documents have been scanned into a readable PDF format that makes them searchable.

Other areas still are lacking, Ritterbush said. One document Ritterbusch used as an example was a Main Street Corridor Project update email, which included a link to a Microsoft Word document that was not easy to access or read.

Chair Holly Morand thanked Ritterbusch for pointing out these features and hoped that the public would find them useful once they become more aware of them.

DiMascio volunteers for Adaptable Playground Committee

Member Michael DiMascio volunteered to serve as the commission liaison to the new Adaptive Playground Committee. The School Department created the committee after a $1 million request for Community Preservation Committee funding for an adaptive playground at the Marathon School failed. Instead, the CPC approved $100,000 for further study on another location for an accessible playground that would serve a wider range of children. Currently, there is no adaptive playground in town.

Danahy said he also would be happy to offer his perspective as a wheelchair user. When he was more mobile as a youth, he said there wasn’t much he could do for recess but crawl.

Said Danahy: “Looking back on it, it worked for me. But nowadays, people would say it’s dehumanizing to see someone crawl.”

Commission reflects on recent public forum

Commission members spoke about the success of the recent public forum held to gain community input on areas where the town could improve accessibility. They will prioritize the list and begin to tackle projects in March.

One point members thought was crucial to bring to the public’s attention is that emergency responders can keep a confidential database of information about people with medical conditions or needs in case of an emergency. For example, a first responder would know before entering a home if a person with a mobility impairment lived on an upper floor and would need assistance evacuating the building.

Commission member Nancy “Punky” Drawe will reach out to Hopkinton Police Chief Joseph Bennett and Fire Chief Gary Daugherty for further information that can be distributed to the public.

Some areas of concern that the commission plans to address are improved accessibility to public buildings, poor lighting on some streets, lack of public transportation, and working with business owners on the importance of making their businesses accessible.

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