DH for All: Towards an Inclusive, Usable, and Accessible Digital Humanities

workshop / tutorial
  1. 1. Jasmine Lelis Clark

    Temple University

  2. 2. Alex Wermer-Colan

    Temple University

  3. 3. Jordan Hample

    Temple University

Work text
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Within the digital humanities, principles of accessibility remain marginal to project development, pedagogy, and research. The body of literature on accessibility (pertaining to making resources usable to those with disabilities) is very limited, with George H. Williams’ “Disability, Universal Design, and the Digital Humanities
” (2012) being the most cited American chapter on the subject (published in
Debates in the Digital Humanities). Within emerging technologies for digital methods, accessibility features are often non-existent, at best an afterthought. Yet established and innovative methods of accommodation for computational technology and media are absolutely necessary to take into consideration from the very onset of a project. As digital methods become more widely used, it is vital that familiarity with web accessibility standards, like W3C’s Web Content and Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), along with concepts like universal design and multimodality be explicated and propagated to ensure that the wide-array of digitally produced scholarship and pedagogic practices reach users with a diverse range of learning abilities.

This workshop will open with an introduction to designing digital projects for a wide range of applications, from research to teaching. We will explore applications of digital technology in academic contexts, before discussing the obstacles and opportunities present in diverse situations. Using a few exemplary case studies of digital projects in major sectors of digital humanities research and pedagogy (such as text mining, mapping, and 3D modeling), we will assess diverging strategies for project design and implementation. During this exercise, while examining these case studies, we will also discuss strategies for setting minimum goals, scaffolding phases of the project, and taking into consideration not only user design, but also project workflow that enables collaborative, active-learning for assistant researchers and students alike. After considering standards for research and pedagogy, we will consider obstacles within different institutions (from research universities to regional colleges), as well as the role of digital scholarship centers and media services for fostering experimentation with emerging technology. While assessing the obstacles for developing digital practices at scale, we will conclude the first section of our workshop by discussing what principles were not accounted for within our case study activity, with the goal of examining how complex designing projects for research and pedagogy can become when attempting to consider accessibility, inclusion, and usability.
Accessibility is often used as a catch all term for multiple concepts. Often, when used, it is referring to increased availability to members of underrepresented groups, or some other form of inclusion, as opposed to the elimination of the barriers that exclude users with disabilities. The second part of this workshop is built around clarifying and differentiating the core concepts of accessibility, inclusion, and usability as defined by W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative. Attendees will be provided with definitions of these concepts before being given an overview of the structure and documentation underlying WCAG. Universal Design and multimodal systems will be discussed as design frameworks that enable and support these core concepts. We will explore seven criteria that can guide us through the activity of assessing digital projects. These criteria will be presented in the form of a rubric to guide attendees in analyzing for whom projects are designed and whether or not that they are appropriately integrating accessible, inclusive, and usable practices at the foundation. Emphasis will be placed on integration and avoiding costly and inefficient remediation, or legal action, later on.
Finally, through the lens of the case studies, we will explore the challenges developers would encounter implementing these concepts, as well as development strategies for overcoming these obstacles in a wide range of media, from web-based resources to immersive technology. Attendees will get a more in-depth look at some WCAG guidelines as we step through the intent (what you are trying to accomplish), benefits (who will benefit and how they benefit), and examples provided by W3C. We will explore common failures to integrate accessible design in our case studies, while focusing on how to evaluate the success criteria to determine if the guidelines are being followed. There will also be discussions around the reality of available resources, including not only technology but also labor, such as development staff, digital scholarship consultants, and accessibility specialists. Assessing available resources will allow project managers to properly scale the recommendations we make to better suit individual projects.
At the end of this workshop attendees should understand the broad range of digital projects in existence within the digital humanities and their obstacles, grasp the difference between accessibility, inclusion, and usability, appreciate the principles of universal design and multimodal system design, and have familiarity with the WCAG documents, guidelines, and available resources. After discussing common failures and success criteria for implementing accessible design in the digital humanities, we will open the floor for questions and discussion around the challenges and strategies for ensuring that participants can bring what they learn during our workshop about accessible, inclusive, and usable digital projects back to their home institutions, integrating these strategies into their curriculum and research protocols.

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