Focus Award winner earns honor for web accessibility efforts

March 17, 2011

Alysa Rollock (left), vice president for ethics and compliance, presents the 2011 staff Focus Award to Kris Knotts, Web marketing and development manager in Krannert School of Management. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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Purdue presented four Focus Awards on March 1 for outstanding contributions to furthering the University's commitment to disability accessibility and diversity. Today, Purdue Today is featuring the staff recipient, Kris Knotts, Web marketing and development manager in Krannert School of Management.

For Kris Knotts, the mission of Purdue's Web Accessibility Committee -- to remove barriers to electronic information and technology -- is intrinsically tied to the University's mission.

"The mission of Purdue University involves knowledge, teaching and service, and all of those areas relate to the sharing of information," Knotts says. "Web accessibility increases the number of people Purdue can reach with its mission. Accessibility gives more people the opportunity to gain the pride of being a part of Purdue though working, teaching, learning or discovering."

Accessibility focuses on the functionality and usability of Web content for all potential users, including those who must or choose to use assistive technology to access content on the Web.

Knotts joined Purdue's Web Accessibility Committee in 2007, and his efforts to ensure equal access to information for all of Purdue's constituencies earned him the 2011 staff Focus Award.

"My decision to be on the committee started off as curiosity," Knotts says. "I wondered what kind of requirements would be made and how the requirements were being decided upon. I know how important accessibility can be, and when I got to see how serious the committee was taking it and that they were not just making requirements without looking at what that meant for Web developers on campus, I was very happy to be a part of the process."

The committee was instrumental in developing the University's Web Accessibility policy, which was adopted March 15, 2010. The policy outlines Purdue's voluntary compliance with the United States Access Board's Electronic and Information Technology Standards related to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. It also contains timelines for achieving compliance and reporting requirements that all University departments and units need to follow.

"There are many challenges when it comes to Web accessibility," Knotts says. "The ones most thought of are vision and hearing. Steps can been taking to make the information on the Web easier for individuals with these disabilities using screen readers, custom style sheets and closed captioning.

"Some other disabilities that need consideration are motor control and learning disabilities. Making sure that a mouse isn't the only method for accessing and navigating a site is important. The ability for users to create their own style sheets can help to move and adjust pages when they need things in a certain order or presentation."

Knotts led a team from the Web Accessibility Committee that created a self-guided training module to assist Purdue departments and units with improving the accessibility of their websites. The group then used the self-guided training as a base for instructor-led training, which Knotts helped present on campus. Sessions focused on some of the most common accessibility problems and how to correct them using appropriate HTML code.

"Web accessibility for me started out as a topic I knew a little about, but never really thought about," he says. "The more I was exposed to it, the more I learned about its importance and the ease at which most of it can be done. The most important thing individuals can do to help making information accessible is to put in processes for making future content accessible. Like many Web developers, I look at the number of pages that need to be fixed and it gets a little overwhelming, but if we have processes for future pages to become accessible, the size of that mountain stops growing."