Tag Archives: accessibility

Are your intranet standards ‘smart’?

I have reviewed many intranets and have been amazed at the variety of publishing standards and how they are enforced.  These vary from no publishing standards through to everything being locked down depending on the importance of complying with standards.  More importantly it is the amount of time, effort, and money that is used to enforce people to comply with the standards when they publish information.

I sometimes think organisations lose the plot and forget to look at the costs being spent for the  benefit being gained.

Your intranet needs standards to make sure your organisation complies with business, user, regulatory, and legal requirements in any country it operates in.  The best approach is to have ‘smart’ standards that need the minimum time, effort, and cost which achieving the maximum effectiveness and benefits.  How many of these questions can you answer “yes” to?

  1. Do you train your publishers on what your intranet standards?
  2. Do you also train your publishers on why your intranet has these standards?
  3. Do you educate and support your publishers with guidance to understand more about your standards?
  4. Do you embed any of your standards in the publishing templates e.g. branding, navigation menu?
  5. Do publishers need to comply with your standards before their content is published e.g. images need to have alternative texts before they can be used?
  6. Do you review content for compliance?
  7. Do you remind your publishers if their content is non-compliant?
  8. Do you remove content if no action by your publishers to comply?
  9. Do you measure how compliant your intranet is?
  10. Have you measured it more than once?

If you answered “yes” to all these questions then award yourself a gold medal!

If you answered “no” to any of these questions perhaps you had better contact me?

Standards that make SharePoint 2010 a success

When you are faced with implementing SharePoint 2010 your intranet needs the right standards to make the launch and ongoing use a great success.

How can you do this?  Firstly you need to be clear why you have standards.  The reasons why usually include:

  • Legal: web accessibility, copyright and image rights
  • Regulatory: compliance with country and international agreements
  • Business: content reviewed regularly and up to date
  • Users: content ownership clear, easy to use and find

Your intranet standards need to:

When using SharePoint 2010 I recommend five standards you must include.  These cover the different types of content and tools that you can use with SharePoint 2010 ranging from accredited information through to collaborative discussions.

1. Ownership

You need to be clear that all your information is managed and has an owner.  Intranet managers need to be able to contact an owner if there is a problem with their content quickly and easily.  People need to know who to contact if they need more information not shown or wish to check about anything that has been published.  You need to reassure your senior managers that any risk has been removed of non-compliance from information not managed.

2. Currency

Your employees must be confident they are using the most up to date information.  You need to clearly show a review date, in line with your information retention policy, for people to see.  Your content must be reviewed regularly and be removed if it is no longer needed and out of date.

3. Security

SharePoint 2010 permissions need to be correctly set so people only see the information they have permission to see.  Get these right at an organisation-wide level to save time and effort later.  Owners (site administrators) of content can decide at a site level who can have permission to create, edit, as well as view content published.

4. Usability

Your information must be usable and valuable to people using it.  Use SharePoint 2010 webparts to create the experience research with people has shown is needed.  Train your publishers on ‘tone of voice’ and ‘writing for the web’ to help achieve this.  To use the full range of SharePoint 2010 features well you must make it easy for people to share views, discover other people and their skills, find the right information and use what they find with the minimum of effort and time taken.

5. Accessibility

This is not an optional extra.  It is mandatory.  You need to go that extra step beyond usable content and make sure your content is accessible to everyone whether they are impaired or not.  It needs to meet WCAG 2.0 guidelines.  Legal requirements do vary from country to country.  For the UK AA level is the current expert recommendation.

What you need to do is check standards are complied with.  This can be achieved by using people or outside auditors to check content or better still, if you can afford it, an automated compliance checker tool.

The ‘font’ of all (intranet) knowledge?

This is another example of BT’s intranet standards used to give users a great experience.

Most browsers, and especially those for people with visual impairment, allow users to adjust font sizes to suit their needs. Therefore, it is important that you do not fix font in an exact, or ‘absolute’, size because users may not be able to see it!

Style sheets in content management systems will take care of font sizes, but if you create your own HTML & style sheets, you must use relative sizing, e.g. -1, or +1.

HTML <font> tag

You should use style sheets instead of the <font> tag to define font attributes. If you still have existing <font> tags within your site you should make sure they are relative and not fixed. You must then switch to style sheets at your next re-design.

Using styles for fonts

When using  styles also always use the relative tags, such as percentage or plus and minus. For example if you want a headline to be bigger then use something like +2, or 150%, or ‘bigger’. Similarly, to make something appear smaller in scale to the rest of the page use -1, 75% or ‘smaller’.

The use of percentage,  ‘em’ units or other ‘relative’ mechanisms to define the font size makes it easy for users to change the text size using their browser settings. 

Testing

Testing should be done in the initial stages of creating a set of styles so that subsequent pages linked to the same style sheet will work:

  • you need to check pages using the “Largest” and “Smallest” text size settings in the browser
  • also test using a range of browser resolutions and settings to ensure the content does not become truncated or cause overlapping sections of content and text
  • switch off the style sheet in the browser to ensure the content is still meaningful.

How users know its the right content

In my post ‘How to get quality content’ I showed how much people value BT’s intranet and are confident about the integrity of the content they use.  BT’s intranet standards mean publishers must keep information up to date and clearly owned so users can rely on it.

In this post I’m going to cover BT’s intranet standard on naming of pages that helps users to find what they need more easily.

Each page should have a title relevant to the content to help users when they bookmark your site or scan search results. The title also appears in the top of the browser window giving users extra reassurance they have arrived at the right place.

Also try to pick a title which will help users when looking in an A-Z (so publishers in BT don’t need to start everything with BT) or call your page ‘homepage’ or ‘index’.

Title tags are in the head section of the HTML. Users of content management systems can set the page title in the properties section of the page.  Aim for having enough information in the first 20 characters of the title to identify the page.

Headings help users scan the page, search engines summarise it and text readers to skim it. Sub section headings help break up the page and allow the user to understand the page structure.

Some assistive technologies have a “skip to next heading” option, so use the <H1>, <H2>, <H3> and <H4> tag (or choose a heading style in the content management system) rather than just make ‘normal’ text look larger.

Choose your heading text with care, aiming to maximise ‘scanning’. The main page heading should ideally match the title tag and give a clear reassurance to people arriving at that page that they have chosen the correct link.

The benefit you gain from intranet standards

I was asked at the recent IntraTeam event (most excellent! :-)) to explain in more detail about BT’s intranet standards for publishers.  I have posted before about 5 ‘must have’ standards and about accessibility and usability.

I thought it would help to say first why I think standards are important and the benefits for everyone in BT.

Intranet publishing standards need to have compelling reasons for being used.  For BT’s intranet these can include:

  • Legal: web accessibility, copyright and image rights
  • Regulatory: BT’s undertakings with OFCOM
  • Business: content up to date and reviewed and branding
  • Users: print, PDA features and global navigation bar 

The main thing is, whatever the reason, is that it:

You must also make it as easy as possible for publishers to comply with these standards.  The higher you make this barrier the more difficult it will be to achieve and the more time and effort needed to do this.

So template features for content management that build in standards like owner, review date, copyright, PDA versions of the information mean publishers have no choice and find it much easier to comply.

I’ll cover our standards in more detail in the next few weeks.  Please let me know which ones you want me to cover first.

More ways to make your intranet legal

When I asked a few weeks ago is your intranet breaking the law Janus Boye wanted me to cover other legal responsibilities we have.  After a quick panic attack I recovered what poise I have and realised there are other areas where intranet managers, publishers and designers need to make sure their intranet is legal.

So here are key points you need to consider.  I suggest you go to the Outlaw site for more details on legal information.

1. Information retention

We need to make sure we only retain the information needed by law and for the sound running of our organisation.  But you need to consider whether you retain old copies of content.  I know of someone who needed to show a copy of a web page as it was at the time of the incident to prove what guidance was actually being given to people.

2. Legal and regulatory frameworks

Like BT’s undertakings with Ofcom, you may need to meet regulatory requirements.  This means there is often a need for some ‘knowledge firewalls’ to safeguard insider information in all sorts of industries such as the pharmaceutical, legal and banking industries.  Incidentally the term ‘chinese wall’ is to be avoided according to Wikipedia.

3. Confidentiality

This isn’t just personal.  It could be commercial confidentiality too. If someone creates a page about issues with a piece of software how would they be affected?

4. Freedom of information (FoI)

This can be a big concern with intranet content.  Anything published on your intranet may be subject to a FoI challenge.  It could makes you less likely to share some details.  This is probably likely to affect public service intranets most. 

5.  Data protection

Data Protection, particularly Personal Data and European Union rules for its use and storage, may affect your intranet systems, particularly HR systems.

6. Copyright

Copying any content, especially an image, photo or multi-media file, from another website to insert on an intranet site is an infringement of copyright, unless you have permission from the copyright owner.  To avoid any copyright problems restrict your uploading to content which you have created; colleagues, friends or relatives have created and given you permission to use; is provided by an official agency.

Is your intranet breaking the law?

My intranet could be breaking the law!  Why?  What?  How?

Well if you have information or applications that is not accessible to everyone then you could be.  Everyone, whether they have any impairment or not, need to have the same experience when using any intranet information or applications.

Legislation and codes of practice based on the WCAG web accessibility guidelines apply in most countries.  US Section 508 and UK DDA 1995 being two of many examples I know of.

In BT we aim to achieve WCAG 2.0 standard.  This is above the likely legal requirement for UK DDA 1995 and, more importantly, sets best practice for all users of BT’s intranet so they have a good experience whatever they use, whether they are impaired or not.

How are we doing this?  Well, apart from my last post on how to use it as a lever for wider improvements, BT:

Follow the right approach and you won’t get a nasty surprise.  It only takes one discriminated user and you could have a really big problem to solve.

Prevention is much, much, cheaper and better than curing a problem like this.

Use accessibility as a lever to improve

I sometimes come across sites and applications on BT’s intranet which could be more usable.  I find it can be easier to pick up with the owner or developer about its accessibility as a lever to improve other areas such as usability.  Why you may ask?

Well there are some improvements which are a matter of opinion.  What is usable to one person maybe very unusable to another.  They are subjective.

But accessibility is NOT subjective.  Either a site is accessible or not.  Also in most countries there is a legal requirement for web services (this includes intranets) to be accessible.  The level required may vary.

Accessibility standards are available to everyone on the internet.  So whether a site or application is developed, published or managed inside or outside of your organisation, the information will always be there.

When a site or application’s accessibility is being updated it is a great opportunity to improve the usability and make other changes at the same time.

So ideally you can improve a site or application so it is legal and improved in other ways to give a better overall experience for all users.

Preventing accessibility problems as well as correcting existing problems is very important for your users as well as your organisation’s legal responsibilities.

I’ll post soon about what BT does on web accessibility.

Meeting mobile intranet users’ needs

Last Friday I was interviewed by the Intranet Benchmarking Forum about how BT was meeting our intranet users’ needs who use a mobile device.  I also came across a great blog post and an internet report on mobility (over 40mb!).

So, I thought I would share what BT has done and what I would like to do in this post as it is becoming a hotter topic.

I posted about BT Intranet mobile users in June 2009 which links to examples.  I feel progress in 2010 will move in different ways for content than for applications.

Content

Now: BT’s intranet standards make sure a PDA heading is on the templates used by our content management system for publishing information.  It means mobile users can click on this to see a text version of the same content.  Changes made to the main version automatically update the PDA version so people can rely on the content being the same.

Future: With the increased capability of mobile devices used by people in BT I want to make sure the coding (CSS) used for the content is capable of sizing up or down for any device and enable images to also adjust their size.  This means we only need one version that is usable and accessible to any device (mobile, laptop, desktop PC, etc) saving on costs and giving users a better experience.

Applications

Many of my regular readers will know my views about the poor usability of applications for intranet users and my concerns with Oracle’s applications on BT’s intranet.

For applications two versions are needed.  The full, standard, functionality is available for people to use but for mobile devices only the cut down, key functionality is available.

For example with BT’s Directory I can check a person’s contact details, manager, organisation chart, whereabouts, team members and their whereabouts.  For mobile devices only the contact details for the person found are available as that is the main reason why people use it.

The difficulty for me is persuading software vendors used by BT for intranet applications to understand why this is important and what is needed.  It should keep me busy during 2010!

An easy way to improve web accessibility

Has anyone seen the new free accessibility tool on the WAVE site?  I thought you might be interested in knowing there is a simple to use and visual tool out there compared with other tools that tend to be a bit ‘techie’ in their results.

WAVE is a free web accessibility evaluation tool provided by WebAIM. It is used to aid people in the web accessibility evaluation process.  Rather than providing a complex technical report, WAVE shows the original web page with embedded icons and indicators that reveal the accessibility of that page.

Even better from an intranet perspective, the WAVE Firefox toolbar allows you to evaluate web pages directly within your browser.  Because no information is sent to the WAVE servers, the toolbar allows you to evaluate password protected, secure, or otherwise sensitive web content.  The WAVE toolbar evaluates content as it is rendered within Firefox.  This allows dynamically created, modified, or scripted content to be evaluated in real time.