044: Lafayette College’s Approach to Web Accessibility, Voodoo Brewing Co Voodoo Love Child


In this episode, we interview Jim Nicnick, Web Developer at Lafayette College, and get an inside look at how their organization tackles accessibility campus-wide.

Mentioned in This Episode


>> CHIS HINDS: Welcome to Episode 44 of the “Accessibility Craft Podcast,” where we explore the art of creating accessible websites while trying out interesting craft beverages. 

This podcast is brought to you by the team at Equalize Digital, a WordPress accessibility company and the proud creators of the Accessibility Checker Plugin. 

In this episode, we interview Jim Nicnick, web developer at Lafayette College, and get an inside look at how their organization tackles accessibility campus-wide.

For show notes and a full transcript, go to “AccessibilityCraft.com/044.” 

Now, on to the show. 

>> AMBER HINDS: Hey, everybody. It’s Amber, and I’m here today with Chris. 

>> CHRIS: Hello, everybody. Excited to be here.

>> AMBER: And we have a special guest, Jim Nicnick. Jim, do you want to introduce yourself? 

>> JIM NICNICK: Sure. My name is Jim Nicnick. I’m a web developer at Lafayette College in Eastern Pennsylvania. I’ve been with the school for about two years. 

Previously, I was a web developer in marketing for about 15, 16 years, mostly working on either client [inaudible] you know, internal websites. A lot of it, WordPress-focused, plus a lot of various platforms that we manage and maintain, and I’m very involved in a lot of our accessibility efforts, especially on the digital side.

>> AMBER: Yes. We’re excited to have you here. We met Jim at WPCampus this summer, and we were chatting, and we discovered a like-interest in accessibility and craft beverages, and I thought, what’s better than bringing you on the podcast? So welcome. 

>> JIM: Absolutely. Thank you. I’m very excited to be here. 

>> AMBER: I’m excited. You’re the first guest we’ve had from a university. We’ve had a lot of guests from outside of higher ed, but we do a lot in higher ed, and I know we have listeners who are in higher ed, so we’re excited that you are going to come on. 

We’re going to talk a lot about accessibility as it relates to higher ed and websites in general, but before, we always have to have a beverage. 

Chris, do you want to tell everyone what we’re drinking today? 

>> CHRIS: Yes. I had a lot of fun shopping for this one because Jim sent us his notes before we recorded this, and was like, “Hey, I like these kinds of things,” and I know one of the things that you like, Jim, is Belgians, and so I didn’t want to just get Westmalle or something typical, right? So I tried to find an interesting one. This one is called Voodoo Love Child, and it is a fruited Belgian-style Trippel ale. Comes in a can, and I believe Voodoo Brewing is Pennsylvania-based, in Meadville, and Lafayette is, of course, in Pennsylvania. 

>> AMBER: So have you had this before? 

>> JIM: I have not. I’ve seen the name around, but I’ve not had it before. 

>> AMBER: Oh, well, that’s good. [laughs] We always try to have new things. I bought eight. 

I feel like I’ve had Voodoo before. We used to live in New York, but I definitely haven’t had this, so have you had any Voodoo? 

>> JIM: I have. I have, yes. It was years ago. My friend, Brad, he’s always wanted to drive around and get stuff and bring stuff in. He’s got a friend, RJ, who always is bringing him stuff, and that’s how I was familiar with the name. I’d had something years ago. I don’t remember… It was definitely not a Belgian, though, because Brad doesn’t like Belgian. 

I know for a fact it wasn’t that. It was probably an IPA, if I had to guess, from Brad, or an ale.

>> CHRIS: Yes. Cool. Well, let’s go ahead and crack these open, and we can give this a smell and give it a taste, and we’re not super formal about this, Jim, since I know this is your first time on the podcast. It’s just crack it open and enjoy your beer however you would like to enjoy your beer, in whatever order. 

>> JIM: I always pour in a glass. 

>> CHRIS: Oh, there you go. 

>> AMBER: So you can see it. 

>> CHRIS: That’s good for getting the nose and the color. I’m doing it less classy today. I’m leaving mine in the can.

>> AMBER: I will say, before I open mine while you all are tasting it, I was impressed when I looked at the ingredients, that in addition to typical beer ingredients, like barley, hops, yeast, all that kind of stuff, it says “cherries, raspberries, and passion fruit.”

Sometimes you get fruited beers, but they don’t actually list any fruit, and I’m, like, “What’s in this, and is it actually fruited?” So I appreciate that. I got to open mine. 

>> CHRIS: OK. A lot of fruit on the nose. I’m primarily getting the berry and the cherry. 

>> AMBER: Oh, I get the passion fruit. 

>> CHRIS: Do you get the passion fruit? I guess it’s there. There’s, like, an undertone of it. 

The first sip impression for me, I’m really impressed by how it’s very full-bodied. In terms of a beer, it’s very thick, very viscous, but at the same time, it’s not stout-like in its flavor. It has he mouthfeel, the heaviness of a stout in terms of its texture, but it’s a lot lighter on the palate, which I appreciate.

What do you think, Jim?

>> JIM: Well, actually I didn’t really think so much of the viscosity, but you could see it on the glass. 

>> CHRIS: Yes.

>> JIM: I didn’t really think about that just in my mouth, but you could see the viscosity in the glass.

So everything you’re saying is 100% on par with what I’m seeing there, but taste-wise, the passion fruit was also what kind of jumped out at me. 

If you would close my eyes and put this in front of me, I would have said this is a Belgian with some kind of tropical flavor or something to that. 

>> AMBER: Yes, It’s very tropical to me, which I like. You know, I saw raspberry and cherry, and I know it’s a Belgian, not a sour, but I sort of thought, is it going to be like a sour where that’s almost all you taste? And this is not that way. Like, it’s not just overpowering raspberry.

>> JIM: That goes a long way in my book. Nothing against overly-fruited beer, but I feel like as I’ve gotten older, my body doesn’t respond to it as well. Like I said, you know, it’s Belgian with the fruit. Not like fruit some Belgian flavor. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. 

>> AMBER: They have a brewery that you can go to? Do you know? 

>> JIM: I know the town name; I don’t know where it is. 

>> AMBER: So it’s not super close to where you are? 

>> JIM: No. 

>> AMBER: No. Would you go in and have more? Does this make you want to have more Voodoo beer? 

>> JIM: Oh, absolutely. 

>> AMBER: Yes? What about you, Chris? Would you drink it again? 

>> CHRIS: I always appreciate Belgians, and I think the reason that I appreciate them versus, like, a lager or an IPA or an ale or any of the others is just, there’s this additional layer of complexity with the secondary fermentation that they’re supposed to do. Because this isn’t bottled, right? So I don’t know if Voodoo is doing their secondary fermentation in a tank. 

Normally, with a Belgian, it continues to ferment inside the bottle, and you get just this additional layer of complexity, right? Like, I can think about this beer. I can taste a lot of different things. It’s not like one punchy note and then done, like an IPA, but I’m getting just lingering flavors, and the flavor kind of changes over time, and so it’s something I can appreciate and think about versus just, you know, slam and back, right? 

>> JIM: Absolutely, and that’s my favorite part about a Belgian versus an IPA. Again, I’m a huge IPA guy, but it really just depends on what I’m doing. 

Usually, I’ll have a Belgian if I’m just sitting out on my back deck enjoying the weather, and I just want the taste to resonate for a while, and I want to still enjoy it after it’s gone. 

>> AMBER: Yes. I think… [crosstalk ] they have a lot of layers in this. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. The other thing I really appreciate about this.., and I know Amber and Steve and I have spoken about this before with other beers we’ve had, but I really appreciate the level of acidity in this beer. 

Some beers have this finish that kind of sucks moisture out of your mouth. It’s like a really

dry finish, but I’m not talking about sugar content. I’m talking about how much or little the beverage makes you salivate, and the more a beverage makes you salivate after you drink, the more wet your mouth feels after you drink, like, that’s an indicator of acidity, and so I really appreciate the level of acidity in this. It’s making me want to come back for more. I don’t feel like I have to cut it with something else or have it with food or whatever. It’s really good. It’s really good. 

We need to have more Belgians on here. We’ve only done one other Belgian in forty-something episodes, so I need to do more of them.

>> JIM: Yes. That’s usually what you find in my refrigerator too. It’s both. It’s always going to be IPAs and Belgians, and it just really depends on the day for me. I mean, what I’m doing, what I’m eating, if I’m grilling. Always have a beer with me when I’m grilling. It’s sacrilegious not to.


>> AMBER: Yes, so what would you grill with this? You know, it’s interesting. Because when you say that, like, this really does… I think maybe it’s the tropical-ness, but to me, it seems like it would go really well. 

I’m a vegetarian, but I’m thinking even like a grilled pineapple would balance really nicely with this, and maybe you’d do chicken or something? I don’t know. 

>> JIM: I went right for chicken, and I thought, nice pineapples, some peppers, some onions, some rice. Yes, absolutely. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. 

>> AMBER: I eat grilled tofu. I thought it would be good. 

>> CHRIS: I think with the acidity, it would cut spiciness. I think this would absolutely slap with like a Jamaican Jerk Chicken, or something with some pineapple. 

>> AMBER: Oh, yes, something spicy?

>> JIM: I have quite a few sauces. I’m a big spice guy too. I like spicier food, so I have a bunch of Caribbean hot sauces that are made for grilling. 

Right away, I thought, “Oh, that will go good with…” I could think of two bottles upstairs right now I have that would go great with this on the grill. 

>> AMBER: Yes.

>> CHRIS: All right. Well, that was a fun detour into beer land. 

Jim, I like your taste in beer, and that you encouraged us to discover this together. 

>> JIM: I’m glad that’s the one you picked. When you said you were going to send a Belgian, I was like, “That’s awesome. That’s great.” I love IPAs. Obviously, they’ve become more of a dime a dozen. Belgian ales… I also brought up Scotch ales, which are more seasonal, unfortunately, it seems to be, but when I find a Scotch ale, I jump on it. I jump on it. [inaudible]. 

>> AMBER: Yes. I don’t know that we’ve done a Scotch ale before, so maybe you should give us a recommendation and we can do one.

>> JIM: Sure. 

>> AMBER: Because I don’t even know if I’ve tried a Scotch ale. What’s your favorite?

>> JIM: Oh, my favorite right now is one from this brewery in Wildwoods that we go to a lot in Wildwoods, New Jersey: MudHen. I almost put the shirt on today too. Mud Hen. 

There’s another one called Scotty Karate. You could probably get this from a brewery in Michigan. It might be Dark Horse Brewing. Scotty Karate, it’s outstanding, and a couple of the places around here usually will have it on tap probably soon, which will put me on the hunt for that. 

I’ll drink a beer. I have like 50 of them in my refrigerator. If it’s on tap somewhere at a bar, just kind of, like, “Well, I never get it on tap.” So usually, I’ll start this time of year.

>> AMBER: It is interesting how different a beer can taste when you get it tapped out of a keg versus in a bottle or a can. 

>> JIM: Oh, yes.

[crosstalk ] 

>> CHRIS: Yes, for sure, and we’ll try to link at least one of those, if we can track it down online, in the show notes so that people can try it before we even try it on here. 

Amber, do you want to take us away with some questions for Jim? Cause I know I’m itching to hear about accessibility at Lafayette College, and hear more about that. 

>> AMBER: Yes. Jim, for people who aren’t familiar, can you give a little background on Lafayette? Maybe how big it is? How many web properties are you all managing? 

This is a fun thing about higher ed, and we were talking about this a little in the pre-show, sometimes there are web properties that are branded on the college, but the main web team doesn’t have anything to do with them, so what does that landscape look like?

>> JIM: We don’t host internally anymore, but the ones that we manage internally, the WordPress ones anyway, we have 170-something sites just from our kind of main web presence. A lot of, like, sub domain multi-sites. 

>> AMBER: So is that one WordPress multi-site with 170 sub-sites? 

>> JIM: That’s one multi-site, with 170 sub-sites. 

>> AMBER: OK, got it. 

>> JIM: And then we have a

few other one-off. We have one that runs about 2000 sites, another one that runs about 3000 sites, and these are more kind of like plug-and-play. Like, somebody comes and requests one. Or one of them is used for a specific… 

>> AMBER: Like a student or a faculty member or something? 

>> JIM: Yes, so we have one where if a student or faculty wants a site for something, we set them up on that one. That’s the one that has about 2000. Then we have another one that’s used for specific courses, and that has about 3000. 

We obviously manage the infrastructure. We manage the deployment, stuff like that, but the sites themselves are all basically WordPress themes that we’ve all vetted, we’ve gone through to ensure that they function, but it’s very limited capabilities. 

The other ones, the department sites, the Lafayette sites are all WordPress themes that we had built, and then we’ve maintained and modified over the course of the last eight years. 

>> AMBER: So they’re custom themes? 

>> JIM: They are custom

themes, yes, and then beyond that, we have a few other one-offs that we run for other departments. We have a bunch of multi-sites, but the main one is the 170-something department sites. 

>> AMBER: And do you have Drupal sites or any other non-WordPress sites as well?

>> JIM: We do have some Drupal sites. Those are more intranet-y in nature, more for internal use throughout the college. For everybody, but not as much. I mean, they are technically public-facing, but not as advertised. Those are also being transitioned, though. They’re just stragglers. 

Previously, I believe we were on Drupal for everything, so all the WordPress sites we have now were once upon a time Drupal from what I understand. 

Like, I said, I’ve only been here for about two years, you know, so there might have been stuff that was not Drupal. 

Aside from that, then there are various properties, various websites and platforms that are not hosted on prem by us at all. They’re through other services, other platforms, like for athletics, and certain things for like admissions intakes, things like that. They’re just not necessarily done through WordPress or they’re not necessarily hosted through us. For events, events management, stuff like that, so there are quite a number of… 

>> AMBER: Yes, like registration websites or buying tickets, and so it’s a platform that’s purchased specifically for that purpose. 

>> JIM: Correct. 

>> AMBER: So with that number of sites how big is your team? 

>> JIM: Our team, not very large. Our web content team is about six, seven people. 

>> AMBER: OK. 

>> JIM: On that is three developers, some instructional technologists, some managers, but for the most part, development-wise, there’s three of us. 

There are other developers throughout from the other departments, but who maintain some of the other stuff. For some of those external services, we do have other divisions of IT who more or less manage that, and we chime in when need be. 

One of our senior guys who’s on our normal web team, he has more hands on that stuff. 

If it doesn’t come through for development live, it won’t cross, like, our web content teams, it won’t come on our agenda, but for the most part, it’s the three of us doing the majority of the development work anyway, and then the other four people are all involved in various capacities, you know, for overseeing things reviewing reports, putting together project plans and stuff. 

>> AMBER: So I’d be curious.., and I’m sure, Chris, you might have some follow-up questions too. Could you just share a little bit for everyone what the accessibility journey has looked like at Lafayette? And if you know a little bit of the history even from before you’ve been there, you know, like, how maybe it’s changed in priorities and just what that even looks like when a new website launches. 

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>> JIM: Sure. A lot of the accessibility standards were in place before I got there, but even when I interviewed about two years ago, accessibility was a major thing for them. They wanted somebody who had experience with accessibility, and somewhat of a passion or at least someone who’s ready to keep that in mind at all times. 

Like I said, coming from marketing, working with clients, especially banking clients, and, like, utility clients, I mean accessibility is, “You have to.” “You have to.” You know, you have to have a strong accessibility initiative. 

I don’t know the full history of where we are now, but we’ve always had various accessibility scans that send us reports, provide us reports, and one of the web team’s agendas is always to review and modify, adapt in usually cycles of importance. 

We try to hit the stuff that’s the most important right away, and then within a week or two, you know, roll out everything else into our themes, into our systems. 

Aside from that, I’m also a member of our accessibility working group, which is a team of people from various departments throughout the college, and this is more than just digital accessibility, you know, we have people from our web team, we have other people from IT, we have people from admissions, and a bunch other… 

>> AMBER: Like faculty? Do you have students on the working group too? 

>> JIM: We don’t have students on the working group, but they do put together kind of small focus groups from time to time of students to also be a part of it, so there aren’t students that are on there. 

It’s funny you mentioned that, because I was at another conference last month, HighEdWeb, and one of the talks I went to was focused on getting student workers involved, and all the different benefits of it, and accessibility, again, it’s always something like, as soon as something comes up, we go right to it, like, “OK. Well, how can we utilize this for accessibility?” And that’s, again, what I thought first right away. I was, like, “OK, could we get a team of reoccurring student workers?” 

Usually, these are for quality assurance stuff, things like for testing and all, but again, that’s exactly right up the alley of what we want. We need this. 

We don’t have any dedicated students, but we do, from time to time, have to put together kind of ad hoc working groups. 

The accessibility team in and of itself is great, because especially right now, we’re putting together a site which is focused on just accessibility throughout the college; everything we have that is accessible, and we’re reaching out to various departments to say, “OK what do you have that’s accessible?” “What can you communicate that’s accessible?” “What do you need that’s accessible?” 

The idea is to have a centralized hub where we cannot just tell people about physical or digital accessibility, but just things in terms of like, “Where are the elevators?” “Where are the ramps?” You know, we’re working on some map work as well. Just everything, you know, and then how can we get ongoing communications for things, like, “Hey, an elevator goes down. Where do you?” You need a hub. We need a place to say, “Just so you know, this elevator is going to be out in this building for the next week. Plan accordingly.”

>> CHRIS: So this accessibility hub is a digital extension of your accessibility working group, which is, all these people from all over Lafayette that are kind of coming together focusing on accessibility in all of these wide ranges of applications?

>> JIM: Yes. 

>> CHRIS: I was going to just ask what a typical meeting when one of these get-togethers in the working groups happen looks like? Or is it all async all the time and everybody’s just collaborating ad hoc? Or are there like regularly-scheduled stand-up meetings where everybody’s getting together bringing all

their issues, so how does this look operationally from an outsider’s perspective?

>> JIM: My boss runs it. He’s the head of the application, integration, development team. 

And he runs it, so he corresponds with everybody between meetings. 

Every meeting is structured with, there’s always an ongoing agenda, with agenda documents, notes, and minutes, and all that. Before updating the agenda, which is always available to us, and for the next meeting, he’ll usually reach out to say, “Hey, these are the things that we’re looking to focus on this time. Maybe make sure this person or this person is present, or maybe bring in this person from this department,” things like that. 

So there’s always a heads up beforehand so people know, just in case. Because when you get a lot of people on a meeting, obviously there’s always people who may not be able to make it, so if it’s going

to be focused on a particular topic, or there’s going to be a promise for one topic over another, then usually it’ll be like, “OK, let’s make sure that that this is going to work out this time because we really need to focus on this.” So there’s a lot of communication between stuff, and usually, there’s always takeaways tasks depending on what it is, you know, for various people on the meeting to kind of do between, you know, from meeting to meeting, and then there’s correspondence in between to say, “Hey, this is where we; this is where we’re going,” and that’s only one part of it. I mean, like I said, that’s, like, the full accessibility team. 

We’re always, weekly, looking over, reviewing, like, for the web presences and stuff like that, so there’s always an ongoing thing. I know a lot of the departments, you know, they have their own kind of internal agendas, and that’s the nice thing about the meeting, which is, “OK, now we can come back and communicate what have we done, and how we have to get that information out there?” 

>> AMBER: Yes. I think a really big takeaway for our listeners on this is, it’s so important to have people from all areas of the organization, whether you’re higher ed and you’re bringing in faculty or department heads, or you’re in a business and you’re bringing in people from various parts of the organization. Because it shouldn’t always be just a developer problem, right? Accessibility is so much bigger than that. 

I love that you all at Lafayette are doing this. You’re bringing a lot of stakeholders from across campus and saying, “This is important. We’re going to have a regular meeting. We’re going to talk about what needs to be done, and then have tasks out of that in between,” and all those things, and I think that’s really important, because if you just leave it to, “Oh, we’re going to wait and test websites when they’re ready to launch,” that doesn’t work well, right? 

>> JIM: No, and I’ll tell you, the most beneficial thing for me being a part of some of these groups is the perspective that’s provided. People tend to focus on accessibility for what they’re responsible for, but they don’t think about how much more there is to accessibility until they’re faced with it, so you’re faced with a very specific task, so this just kind of constantly keeps all of us in perspective or in check of not just what one person is doing, but what one person could do to help assist somebody else’s efforts, and that’s the thing that… 

Every time I go to a conference, I try to sit through the accessibility talks just for the perspective, if nothing else, because we’re always focusing on people with very specific needs, like who might have hearing needs, visual needs, physical needs, but one of the things we’re… 

I remember I kind of floored about it’s so simple, but somebody threw out there in one of the first conferences I went to. They said we’re always focused on people who have lifelong needs. What about people with temporary needs? And it’s, like, “Oh, my God, that’s so simple, but you’re right.”

I know it’s a given, but you don’t think about that. You look and say, “OK, well, we could say there are X number of people we’re going to try to Target,” but you’re, like, “Yes, but we have X number of people based on long-term data. What about the ins and outs? Or what about Bob who broke his foot and now has to take the elevator? Now the elevator’s out and we didn’t think about Bob when we did this because Bob didn’t have this foot issue three months ago.” 

So the perspective is invaluable. I mean, the perspective you get from other people, the things you don’t think about, and then obviously, again, being on the digital side of it, thinking, “OK, how can we communicate this?” That’s important. We need to communicate this. It’s not just “how,” it’s “we need to,” and how can we make this a priority? 

So that’s the most invaluable thing of going to talks, talking to people, and being part of these teams, is how much your eyes become open to the things that are outside of your purview, that are just not in your day-to-day. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. [crosstalk ] accessibility cannot happen in a vacuum. 

>> JIM: No. No, and the other one is, you know, we look at accessibility scores and we think, “Oh, 93. I got an A. Perfect. I’m going to put this on my fridge so my mom can see when I get home.” But it’s, like, no, no, no. 100. You need a hundred. Because 93 means seven percent is not accessible. 

>> AMBER: Seven percent of people can’t access your stuff, right? 

>> JIM: Yes, so those are two things I always try to keep in mind. A, we got to go for all the way; and B, I don’t know anything. Keep finding out, keep learning, keep taking it in, be mindful. 

>> AMBER: Yes. 

>> CHRIS: So for the bigger organizations that might listen to this… Because I know they’re going to see the name Lafayette, they’re going to be, like, “Oh, I have to listen to this episode because I’m at XYZ, other college or university. I want to hear what they’re doing.” What are some of, like, the KPIs that get repeatedly brought up with this accessibility group, or just in your own organization? Like, what are you constantly thinking about? What numbers are you paying attention to? Or is it even numbers?

>> JIM: I don’t know if I’d say so much numbers, so the bigger meeting, like the campus-wide meeting, it’s usually about, like I said, taking in each individual department’s needs and figuring out how to communicate that, I guess, and keep it in check. 

Although, for our own internal ones, which is the one we focus on more, the things we keep in mind most is physical accessibility in terms, I guess, the digital front, making sure that people who have any kind of needs are accounted for. 

Keyboard accessibility, huge. You got to make sure that’s always ready to go. Anything that could provide an audio… Or I guess visual assistance, that’s 100 on par. We always have to look for anything like that, so if we find a link or something… 

>> AMBER: Making sure you have captions on videos, those sort of things. 

>> JIM: Captions on everything. Captions on this. Captions on titles, on links. Make sure that every link is described properly for the hearing impaired. That’s was another thing. 

>> AMBER: Yes, so not saying, “Learn more”?

>> JIM: Yes, not a thousand “learn mores,” and if for some reason, somebody does have about five “learn mores,” we make sure that there’s at least an audio-described title that says, “learn more about X.” But for the most part, we do our best to not even just do the “learn more, learn more, learn more.” It’s, you know, “Apply today.” “Click here to learn more about application” or, “Application process,” something like that.

So, yes, descriptive text, always, always, always a thing we’re looking for, and like I said, any kind of keyboard issues, anything that would make it so somebody cannot traverse the site, those are things that we’re on top of right away. 

Always do transcripts for all videos. That’s one thing we’re always going over with our video vendors, ordering transcripts for every video, providing them as closed-captioning, and as audio transcripts for every video we make available [crosstalk ]. 

>> AMBER: Yes, so someone who’s deafblind, they can’t use the captions. They need the transcript. 

>> JIM: Correct.

>> AMBER: I’m curious with all of this and, you know, the number of people you have. You talked about your core content creators that work on the main sites is like six to eight. That’s easy to manage, right? But how do you communicate to all those students and all those faculty members on the thousands of sites that they’re creating? How have you all thought about that? Like, educating them in accessibility and how are you managing that sort of thing? Like, how do you tell them not to create “learn more” links? 

>> JIM: Right. With all those sites, that means that obviously we’re not individually updating all the content, so we do have communications division that does scan content, and that’s another part. We will reach out to people. Obviously, we can’t do it right away, but that’s one of the things that has always been a challenge for us, which is, how do we do accessibility scans on the fly?

I do see that with WordPress, you do have a gate for that. You do have Accessibility Checker, and that’s one thing that we’ve always run into issues with, which is trying to find something that works well. 

>> AMBER: Yes, because a lot of the SaaS tools don’t do it instantly. 

>> JIM: No. No. We’ve tried a couple of things that were supposed to do it and it doesn’t work. Usually, it’s anything with WordPress multi-site we find that some other services choke on, which, you know, not necessarily to their discredit.

Sometimes things change, and it’s hard to keep up with, and there’s security protocols and things, so I certainly understand why it’s a struggle, but it’s also a struggle for us. 

Unfortunately, there’s not a great way to do it, so we do have various community practice sessions, working sessions, where we outreach to the admins. Every site has very specific admins and secondary admins, and we do have training sessions and seminars, things like that, where we’re constantly going out and talking to them, and providing documentation. 

We’ve got a whole help documentation. We do provide accessibility reports to them on a regular basis. Same with other analytics, and just various site status reports, so we are constantly communicating with them, but obviously, you know, it’s always like a, “Hey, this is what went wrong before.” It’s, like, obviously we want to say, “Well, how can we be forward thinking about this,” which is where some kind of a filter would be nice, but beyond that, we do our best with the educational piece of it, and constantly trying to keep people up to date. 

Obviously, with 170 sites, statistically, people are going to come and go at varying intervals, some people move to other departments, some people leave, some people retire, so we’re constantly redoing this several times a year to make sure that people are up to date, and we always have, like, a door-open policy. We’re, like, “Hey, just submit a ticket. We will come to you. We will sit down with you. We will go over this with you. We will explain this to you anytime,” and that’s a big part of what the web content team does. 

That’s one of my favorite parts of the job. What I do is just how [inaudible]. Coming from marketing to being in higher ed, I still got to maintain those relationships with people. I had to sit down with people and then have that conversation, ṭhose communications. That was one of the things I really thought I would miss most, and it turns out it’s not missing at all. It’s there. 

I’ll tell you, we work with some terrific people throughout the departments. The people who manage the sites tend to be very passionate about their own content, especially the admission side, the counseling side, the health side, things like that. People tend to take their content very seriously, and when they see something wrong in a report, they will reach out, which is very nice. It’s very reassuring that it’s not just us, and, you know, despite the fact that we have a small team, we know we’re not in it alone. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. That education and that outreach is critically important, especially as an organization gets larger.

You’re echoing a lot of things that I have heard from other organizations like yours via turnover in the organization, losing knowledge. Other people are coming in or moving around, and making sure everybody stays up to that standard can be incredibly challenging. 

I would be curious to know… Because you’ve been at Lafayette for a couple of years. Has there been a change that you all have made in a process, or a new practice you’ve introduced in the last couple of years where you just thought, like, “Man, if every university could do this, it would really, really help them”? Or just any advice or recommendation you might have for someone who’s sitting in your shoes, only they may be a little further behind?

>> JIM: I don’t know that there’s been any radical changes other than, like I said, making it a priority. Again, I can only speak for the last two years. I ask questions, but there’s so much to take in when you started at a place that’s been going for a long time, with people who have been there for 10, 15, 20 years. You catch up as you go, on an as-needed basis.

Like I said, what we’re doing now with this accessibility initiative in terms of creating this hub has been a tremendous experience for a lot of people, because it is starting to make people take a look at themselves beyond just, like I said, what a scanner can do, and we are looking to add manual scans as well, in addition. Like, real world people to come in and say, “I can’t see. I’m going to check your website with my tools.” “I can’t use a mouse. I’m going to check…” You know? So we are looking to kind of implement that as well on top of everything else, because as people who focus our careers around technology, we know that there’s nothing like real people testing your product. The technology is great and we have to have it, and we want it to get better, and we’re going to keep seeking out what’s better, but in the end, we’re focusing our efforts on people, and there’s nothing more telling than people looking at our product. So that is something… 

>> AMBER: Yes. I was going to say, I think there’s this really interesting line between technical WCAG, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines compliance and actual accessibility, and usability. Like, there’s this really interesting overlap, and that’s something that’s come up. 

When we build new websites, we always include some user testing on them general, and sometimes, things come up during the Accessibility user test. It’s an accessibility problem, but it’s actually more of like it would impact everyone. Because sometimes when we’re designing sites or writing content or building a site, we’re all, like, “We know how this is supposed to work,” and so we test it, and we’re all, like, “It’s great,” and then you get someone who’s never seen it before and they’re just, like, “I don’t understand why this…” 

We just had testing on a website, and someone came in, and there were tabs, and I’ll tell you, we very strongly advocated for, “There should only be one row of tabs to change the content down below.” But the client really, really, really, really, really wanted to put everything on the homepage, so there were, like, multiple pages. There’s about three rows of tabs, and we kept being like, “No.” But finally, we’re just, like, “Well, maybe this will come up in testing,” and it did, and actually it was someone from their own company who was testing, and they’re, like, “It took me a while to figure out that when I click this, it changes the content down below,” and I was, like, “Oh, I told you.” 

>> JIM: I’ve been there with that exact scenario. 

>> AMBER: But until a user says it, people don’t always realize. You just think, “Well, it makes sense to me.” Right? 

>> JIM: Absolutely, and we do have several usability testing measures that we go through. We have a whole process for when we launch a new platform or site, or when we test one, but going back to the student thing I was talking about, that was one of the big things that talk I went to focused on, which was getting them in early on before it even gets to your more structured usability testing. Get a demo of a system and put it down in front of the students, put it down in front of a couple of faculty members, and see what they think before you spend any time putting any time or effort if you’re trying to budget for it. Just get a demo, figure it out, and I thought that’s such a great way to do it. I mean.., and this is [crosstalk ]. 

>> AMBER: Yes, try to be more nimble about it.

>> JIM: Yes. Yes. Yes, and we’re seeing a lot in terms of project intake, in terms of how to streamline the process to make it more efficient before it even becomes an intake process. Just kind of doing a better job gating things before you even determine if it’s worth your while to look, you know, more depth in. 

Like you said, sometimes just getting a person to sit down in front of something and be, like, “This doesn’t… No, no, don’t do this.” It’s saves you lots of time, lots of money. 

>> AMBER: I’m curious. I’d like to go back a little bit. Because you said when you interviewed at Lafayette, they even asked you about accessibility then, so for developers that are trying to learn more about accessibility and might be thinking, “I want to apply somewhere where they’re going to ask me that question,” do you have any advisors? Like, where did you start learning? What resources did you find helpful? What would you advise for developers who want to learn more about accessibility?

>> JIM: When I first became aware of accessibility was with a banking client years ago. They got audited and it got brought to our attention. Obviously, there were always things that we always try to keep in mind, but as you keep building onto a system, building on, you know, accessibility things are only kept up by people who understand accessibility measures, which isn’t always the case, so that was a huge eye-opener. 

We had a client that came and said, “Look, our site got hit with all these accessibility issues,” and they provided us with a list of everything, and we were, like, “Wow, didn’t know that mattered.” “Wow, didn’t know that mattered. OK.”

>> AMBER: Yes. That first one, it’s always a little eye-opening. [laughs] 

>> JIM: Absolutely, so from there, it’s like, “OK, I need to figure out what this means, and how to adapt this moving forward.” “How do I always keep this in mind? Because I don’t want to ever get

hit with this again.” So then you start looking around. 

Now, obviously, there’s a lot of great resources, just, you know, when you start Googling WCAG, you start looking around for that stuff, there’s a lot of… Just on, like, the government sites that kind of give you an idea, but it’s something that gets to be wordy and isn’t always very telling in a real-world situation. 

The WAVE accessibility is a great way to kind of get an idea of how your site is functioning, but it’s not the end-all, be-all, but the best way to do it as far as I’m concerned is be curious. Always be curious, and never stop researching, so you start to look at some of these things, you start to run your site through a couple of accessibility checkers, whichever one it may be, and really fully understand why it flagged you, and not just, look and say, “How do I fix this,” but understand why they care, you know? And that’s the thing about a lot of people in our accessibility teams, which is there’s a passion there. It’s not just about knowing what it means. It’s about caring what it means. 

We have people who have various friends, family members with accessibility needs. I myself had a blind

grandmother, and, grew up with, like, helping her and understanding what it meant to try to… She was blind in one eye and almost completely blind in the other eye. She could see sometimes at the right angle with magnifying devices. Like, to read a newspaper, she had, like, the equivalent of a projector, like those old projectors we had in school. She’d have to, like, put it under stuff and it would increase it, and it’s like she could like read out of the side of her eye. That was the best she could do.

So I think every one of us has kind of an influence, and therefore a passion, and I think passion is the number one thing. You have to actually care about what you’re trying to do, but beyond that, it’s just a never-ending educational experience, and that’s kind of how we see it, so the second we find something, if we get flagged for something that’s new, we tear it apart. Like, we need to know every instance, every reason why this matters, and how to make it so it never happens again. You know, I don’t mean tear it apart negatively. I mean, we break it down on an atomic level to understand why this matters, why this is happening, and how it is that we can make sure that this never happens again. 

Like I said, it’s the passion in the people, because the people who are parts of this meeting, nobody was mandated to be there. Like in this group, nobody was told they have to be there. It was people who said, “Yes, we should be here. I want to be here.” So it’s about having a passion. It’s about being very dedicated to inclusion.

>> AMBER: Yes. I think that’s the thing that I didn’t really realize until I started working, which is how large of a number of people are impacted by different accessibility features on websites, or on the TV, or out in the world, and it’s interesting because since I’ve gotten more involved, of course, I’ve made friends who are blind. We have employees on our team who do work for us who are blind, but even beyond that, you know, I’ve spoken at conference. 

I remember one conference I spoke, and someone came up to me and she was telling me this story about how her child who’s under 10 had suddenly started having seizures and it was so bad, and now he’s wheelchair-bound, and it just happened all of a sudden, and she was saying, you know, how much.., and it’s just, like, there’s so many people out there that maybe we don’t notice them, which is a little bit sad, but we don’t notice or we don’t see them, but I think if you pay more attention, you start to realize that it is actually a very huge number of people. 

Brian Bracey [phonetic] who’s one of our co-organizers on the WordPress Accessibility Day Conference, he gave a talk at a meetup once, and he was talking about how he was colorblind. I’ve been working with him and I had no idea, right? Because he’s, like, “I can’t tell the difference between red and green.”

>> JIM: I was going to bring that exact thing up. A good friend of mine, he’s colorblind, and you don’t realize until he’s driving and he’s, like, “What color is the light?” I’m like, “what?” He’s, like, “No, I know that one’s lit up.” [crosstalk ]. 

>> AMBER: If they changed the order, he would probably be in trouble. 

>> JIM: Yes, yes. Oh, he’d be in serious trouble. I would have been in trouble.

>> AMBER: Have you seen those stoplights where they’re different shapes? 

>> JIM: Yes.

>> AMBER: I think in Europe, they’re starting to do that. I don’t know if I’ve seen that in the United States. I’ve only seen it on the internet, but I was, like, “That seems like a really good idea.”

>> JIM: Yes, but that was a big perspective for me, and I was going to bring that up because I thought about it while you were talking. 

Again, we think about, “OK, we have to cater to the blind,” which of course we do, but don’t forget there’s colorblind too, and that matters too, and this is why color contrast and color choice is such a huge, huge, huge endeavor. Like, you’ve got to be ready for this. You’ve got to be thinking about everybody at all times. 

We always joke that the most accessible site is just a black and white document, and it’s true to a point. If you go to a website, and it looks like a word document, it’s like, “Yes, that’s probably about as accessible as, you know…” That’s if you really want to get to the highest standard, but obviously we don’t want to do that for a million reasons, but think about those people. Think about the people you’re not thinking about. That’s always what we’re trying to do. 

>> CHRIS: Yes, and this is something that our CTO has said before, and I wish he could be here to say it, Steve, but he’s, he’s not a guest today, obviously, but he has said that it used to be really easy to make websites accessible because basically you didn’t have a choice. You were just doing stuff in

HTML and everything worked, and it wasn’t until we started layering on, and I’m paraphrasing what he said, JavaScript, like CSS, all this stuff, and started getting really flashy with everything that accessibility has really come back to the forefront, because we’ve regressed as things have gotten more complex, which makes sense. 

As the web has gotten more complex, just like our real world is complex, we’ve learned that we have make these perfectly reasonable and necessary accommodations to make it so that everybody can use the stuff. 

>> JIM: If you really want to get somebody riled up, especially in my field, mention accessible PDFs. 

>> AMBER: Oh, man. OK, wait, so that can be our final question before we wrap up. I’ll ask a first very short one and then you can talk longer, so the first one is, do you allow random faculty members to put PDFs on your website? 

>> JIM: No. 

>> AMBER: OK. Yes, so that’s an interesting thing. It’s, like, I’ve heard a lot of universities are shifting this direction, where… I mean, there’s even some where the PDF extension file extension is blocked in the WordPress [inaudible]. 

>> JIM: Oh, no. I should say we try not to. 

>> AMBER: So how do you handle PDFs at Lafayette?

>> JIM: They’re all checked. They’re all scanned, and again, they’re a part of the report. The reason I bring this up again is because I remember the first time I was hit with an accessibility PDF thing, and I’m, like, “What do you mean, accessible PDF? What does that even mean?” And this was years ago, and I started looking at them, like, “OK, that makes sense.” 

>> AMBER: Yes. 

>> JIM: But it’s still a pain, and at least at the time, not a lot of accessibility checkers were doing much about PDFs. They didn’t have the capability to do it. 

>> AMBER: Yes. We don’t do them yet. What do you use for PDF testing? 

>> JIM: I believe our PDF stuff comes from Siteimprove. 

>> AMBER: OK. Yes. I know CommonLook is another one that a lot of people use for PDFs, or AbleDocs. 

>> JIM: So again, back to HighEdWeb back in or last month, somebody brought this up in an accessibility working group meeting, or like the workshop, or accessibility workshop, and somebody brought it up, and I swear, like, people almost rioted. Like, they’re, like this is all developers and structural [inaudible] and web content managers who were just, like, “We don’t know.” “We don’t know what to do,” and there was one guy there. I really wish I had his name. I’ll look back through him. He might be an interesting guy to get on your podcast. 

This is a guy who works for a very expensive company that does high-level accessibility checking, like [inaudible], you know what I mean? Like almost on a legal level, but he would probably be a good guy to get a lot of perspective from. Because he stood up and he was, like, “All right, crowd, in control. I got you,” and he, like, you know, he [inaudible]. It’s true. It’s a problem, and it’s out there, and it’s got to be solved. 

Yes, definitely, PDFs are always a pain, so we’re always checking for them. That’s why we try to keep our admins limited, but we can’t stop PDFs. I mean, there’s just too much of that. We do block certain file types, especially anything with any kind of scripting or any kind of modification, but we do try to limit various file types, scripts, and stuff like that. 

>> AMBER: You know, Rachel Cherry, probably, from WPCampus? 

>> JIM: Yes. 

>> AMBER: So she coded something for Cornell where if anyone tries to upload a PDF to their WordPress website, it grabs it and it doesn’t put it in the media library. It instead sends it… I’m going to call it Dropbox. It might not be Dropbox, but to a file system like that to a specific folder, and then what happens is the person who tried to upload the PDF gets notified of what the cost for remediating the PDF will be, like, to their departmental budget, and then they get to make a choice, and then if they are, like, “Yes, let’s move forward,” then it gets moved. It gets remediated and put in a different folder, and then that folder automatically uploads it to the WordPress media library. 

>> JIM: OK. 

>> AMBER: So they have literally been, like, “We’re hijacking. It has to be checked.” 

I talked to someone at, I think, Penn [phonetic], who had said that they had been sued and they had a hard line, no-PDF policy, because they were, like, “It’s too much work. It’s too hard.” So they’re just, like, “Everything needs to be a webpage.” 

>> JIM: Yes. It’s funny, because I do a little freelance on the side too, and a freelance client came to me the other day and they were using a…It’s one of the rare things I didn’t oversee for them, but they were, like, “Hey, we need to turn our terms of service into a webpage.” I said, “Yes, I turned into a webpage years ago. What are you doing?” 


[crosstalk ] 

>> AMBER: It’s a PDF? 

>> JIM: They had a PDF that they put it onto their site, and then they were using that link to share it around to other places. 

>> CHRIS: Oh, my gosh.

>> JIM: And I said, “Well, it’s already a webpage. I’ll just take your PDF and update the content, if that’s what you want me to do. Or you could do it.” But I didn’t know they were doing this. They weren’t linking. Like, it wasn’t like the site was linked to it, and that was the worst part. They were just sharing this around in, like, app stores and/or in emails and to customers, and I’m not going to mention… 

>> AMBER: That could be bad though. Because I think I’ve heard that there were cases where it came out that the terms of service did not apply to a person with disabilities, because the court was, like, they had no way of accessing this or agreeing to it, so guess what? Poor privacy

policy, right? 

>> JIM: Right. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. 

>> AMBER: That’s probably one of the most important pages on your website, to make sure everyone can access it. 

>> JIM: Well, especially because for validation purposes, various high-level platforms will scan them to make sure you have a web version of them. They don’t care if your PDF is accessible or not, because they care that it’s a PDF and they don’t want anything to do with it, so right away,

you’re going to get flagged just based on the fact that it’s a PDF. 

Now, obviously, like in our case, we can’t stop all PDFs because people will use them for supplemental tools, and that’s where we try to be, like, “Yes, if you want to give a download or something or a

document. “If it’s a form that somebody needs, like, on an admission site or any kind of internal site, yes, we understand you got to give this downloadable form, but don’t make that your content.” Don’t be, like, “Hey, we’re having an event. Click here to read the PDF about our events.” Like, no, no, no, no, no. 

>> AMBER: Yes. I think what I’ve seen from some of the newer guidance from OCR, the Office of Civil Rights was, if there is a class where they know that there are no students with disabilities in that specific class for that specific term, then there is no obligation for the faculty member or the university to provide an accessible PDF. As long as they’re not publicly publishing them on the web. 

>> JIM: Right.

>> AMBER: But if they’re, like, password-protected or whatever, and they literally know because there’s no students that have been identified with having a specific need, then it’s OK that they’re not accessible, and they’re not going to enforce accessibility of those documents. However, the moment there is a student, or the moment they start widely distributing it to the public, like it’s an open EDU course or something, then it has to be accessible, but if you know who you’re distributing to, and you know their needs, then it’s OK. 

>> JIM: Right. Yes. I haven’t heard anything like that internally, but that sounds… I feel like [crosstalk ]. 

>> CHRIS: I mean, honestly though, like, what’s harder? Just making the thing accessible, or tracking every single person and knowing what their level of capability is to interface with something digitally?

>> JIM: And that’s why we try to wrap our head around any kind of issue that’s brought to our

attention right away, so that we understand why, and we understand how to just not have it be an issue again, ever again, and if you have the ability to make something PDF accessible, and sometimes, I guess, you’re allowed not to make it accessible, it’s like, “Well, but you already have the ability to make it accessible. What if you want to reuse this document?” Yes. Like why? 

Again, going back to what we were talking about earlier, sure, you don’t need it accessible now. Well, what if somebody out playing a sport gets hit in the eye and can’t read well, and now needs a screen reader to read their course documents that were given to them throughout [crosstalk ]? 

>> AMBER: Yes. You want to have to remake all of your course documents in

the middle of the semester with about two days’ notice? 

>> JIM: Right.

>> AMBER: Probably not. [chuckles] 


>> JIM: Yes. What did you gain? That seems a bit careless and unnecessary. 

>> CHRIS: And we can wrap. I know we’re getting close to time, but you know the meme, “This meeting could have been an email”? 

>> JIM: Yes. 

>> CHRIS: I feel like we need a different one on like a t-shirt that’s, like, “This PDF could have been a webpage.” 

>> JIM: Right. That’s great. 

>> AMBER: We can add that to our list of t-shirt ideas that we keep getting, but we haven’t made the shop for yet. At some point, for “Accessibility Craft,” we’re going to make a t-shirt shop, and people can just go buy t-shirts. 

I think that is a great one, Chris. [laughs] 

>> JIM: I would absolutely buy that t-shirt. 


>> CHRIS: Wear it to your next accessibility group meeting, right?

>> JIM: 100%. 100%.

>> AMBER: Yes, yes, yes. [laughs] 

>> JIM: I’m not above buying a development-based t-shirts, you know, that only, like, 12 people I know get. I’m all about that. 

>> CHRIS: Absolutely. Those 12 people that you know should be your friends. 

>> JIM: Exactly. Exactly.


[crosstalk ] 

>> AMBER: Out in the world, I was wearing a “Make WordPress Accessible” t-shirt, some random stranger was, like, “I love that shirt,” and I was, like, “I feel like I should know you now, so let’s talk.” 


>> JIM: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. That a deep bond. 

>> CHRIS: For sure.

>> AMBER: [crosstalk ] Oh, before you say thanks, I was just going to say let’s give Jim a chance. If anyone wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to get in touch with you? 

>> JIM: My email “NicnickJ.” Yes, Nicnick’s my last name. N-I-C-N-I-C-K-J at Lafayette dot E-D-U. 

>> AMBER: And do you use any of the socials, LinkedIn or anything like that? 

>> JIM: Yes, I am on

LinkedIn. I think I’m just “James Nicnick” on LinkedIn, and that’s about it for social media for me at the moment. 

>> CHRIS: Good call. [laughs] 

>> JIM: Yes. I kind of got to a point. It’s was just hard to keep up with. It was, like, trying to keep up with everything. 

I’m still technically on Facebook. My Twitter got hacked, I got it back, and I never really did anything with it. I’m not on Macedon currently. I’m on Discord. I’ve been meaning to set up a Lafayette account. I have a personal one, but I’m technically there. 

LinkedIn is one I still get notifications for under “James Nicnick.” But email is usually the best way to get a hold of me because I’m always checking my email. 

>> CHRIS: Well get ready for a flood in your communications for the millions of people that listen to this podcast every single week. 

>> JIM: I’ll tell my team of administrative assistants to be ready. 


>> CHRIS: All right. Jim, thank you so much for being on. 

>> JIM: I thank you for having me. 

>> CHRIS: Thank you for pushing us into Belgian territory here with this beer. 

>> JIM: Absolutely. 

>> CHRIS: Shout out to Voodoo Love Child for the delightful drink for my Friday afternoon. Not sure how productive I’m going to be from this point forward. [laughter] But thank you very much for being here, and thank you, Amber, as always. 

>> JIM: Thank you for doing this podcast. I want to say thank you for that. This is an awesome thing that, you know… As we

talked about, it’s about passion, right? And I think it’s awesome. You guys, thank you for having me, and thank you for doing this. 

>> AMBER: Yes, thank you. 

>> CHRIS: All right. We’ll see you all next time. 

>> SPEAKER 1: Thanks for listening to “Accessibility Craft.” If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe in your podcast app to get notified when future episodes release. You can find “Accessibility Craft” on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and more, and if building accessibility awareness is important to you, please consider rating “Accessibility Craft” five stars on Apple Podcasts 

“Accessibility Craft” is produced by Equalize Digital and hosted by Amber Hinds, Chris Hinds, and Steve Jones. 

Steve Jones composed our theme music.

Learn how we help make thousands of WordPress websites more accessible at “EqualizeDigital.com.”