Accessibility at NC State

Last Friday was Greg Kraus’ last day at NC State. Although Greg is moving on to bigger and better things, everyone in the university developer community is sad to see him go—especially me and Jen, who worked with Greg in OIT-OCC.

For those that don’t know, Greg was the university’s IT Accessibility Coordinator. I’m serving on the search committee to select his replacement, and today I’d like to talk a little about accessibility in the context of what we do at OIT Design.

What is IT accessibility?

IT accessibility is about ensuring that all potential users are able to use and interact with software or websites, regardless of any physical disabilities that they may have. In web design, that often (though not exclusively) means building websites that can be used by people with visual impairments.

In the very visual modern web, that means deliberate design choices and awareness of the assistive technologies used by these users, such as screen readers like JAWS and NVDA.

What are some things I should watch for?

  • Document structure – In short, using HTML tags the way they’re intended to be used. While there’s a temptation to use h1, h2, and h3 tags interchangeably and as your visual design needs require, those tags each provide key navigational markers for screen readers. Similarly, other common HTML elements—lists, header, footer, etc.—provide information to users about how the page is structured. (Read more.)
  • Keyboard-only use – A good website should be usable and navigable using just a keyboard—no mouse or trackpad required. Users should be able to tab through links and access any hidden content (think elements like accordions or tabs) using just a keyboard.
  • Turn off CSS – Web designers lean heavily on CSS to control how their sites are displayed. But now try turning it off. Viewing your site without any styling at all can be jarring, but it’s an important part of understanding how your site is structured and whether the flow of information is easy to understand to a user who isn’t making a visual distinction between, say, the left and right columns of a page.
  • Color contrast – For users with a partial visual impairment, subtle color contrasts (like dark-gray text on a light-gray background) can be indistinguishable. That doesn’t mean everything has to be strictly black-text-on-white, but it does mean designers and developers need to be thinking about color contrast. WCAG AA guidelines sets a standard 1 to 4.5 luminosity ratio. At NC State, white text against a Wolfpack Red background meets this standard, but black text does not. (Test your preferred color palette here.)
  • Usability – Usability and accessibility aren’t the same thing, but usability and accessibility are closely related. Following accessibility guidelines typically leads to better usability, and designing a website with usability in mind will fix many of these issues before they become a problem. When you’re designing and developing, consider the diversity of your audience and how that diversity may affect how they interact with your website.

What’s a specific change I can make to my content to make my WordPress site more accessible?

In WordPress, here are two easy things you can do:

  1. Use proper page headers. This is easy in the WordPress visual editor. In the toolbar that appears at the top of the editor, the dropdown “Paragraph” menu allows you to choose between regular paragraph text and different headers (h1 to h6).
  2. Add meta data to all of your images. The WordPress media uploader provides you with title, alt, caption, and description fields for your images. Use these fields to provide users with the information contained in your images.

What’s a specific change I can make to how I write WordPress themes to make them more accessible?

Besides the general awareness of document structure and the other “things to watch for” listed above, a good practice is to make use of ARIA landmarks in your theme files. The W3C provides a good primer for developers on what ARIA is and how to use it.

More Resources

Accessibility isn’t difficult, but it does take deliberate action on the part of designers and developers and a commitment to make it a part of our workflow. It’s something most good designers struggle with, and it’s certainly not something I’ve personally done a good job with in the past.

Thankfully, there are a number of resources available online and for the NC State community to help improve IT accessibility.


Every week the full-time staff of OIT Design spends their Friday at co-working. As we’ve mentioned in the past we use some of this time to make ourselves available for office hours. But this is truly a joint time and space for folks from all over campus to come and talk about web issues.

Every Friday, web designers and developers, applications programmers, and others on campus who work with the web come to 106 Avent Ferry and work in a shared space for the day. It’s not mandatory or anything; some folks only come for a morning or afternoon, some only once or twice a month. But often times we wind up with a good collection of 5-10 people and we’re able to share ideas, get help from each other, communicate updates on our projects, and offer suggestions for things campus might need that we can work on together.

Co-working is a concept jointly conceived of by some of OCC’s previous staff and has been going on at NC State for more than three years. Originally we started as a more formal group – we used to schedule presentations every week! Eventually it got to be a bit too overwhelming, and over the years the numbers of people who attend weekly has ebbed and flowed. But regardless of the demands of our individual jobs the benefits of sharing knowledge seems to bring folks back time and again. And we do continue to use this time for the occasional presentation, Q&A for major updates, or rollouts, and of course, for office hours.

Co-working has certainly been a very successful endeavor for campus and I think it’ll be around for years to come. In fact I’d love to expand it some and see folks from other school’s or even alumni of NC State positions return for the occasional chat and check-in. Anything we can do to put that fancy buzz word – collaborate – into action. And if you’re at NC State and involved with the web you should definitely come out sometime and join us!



WordPress usage on campus has dramatically increased, both through OIT Design’s services and with the help of groups like ITECS and Web Communications. In a university community with lots of expertise and lots of beginners learning the basics, we haven’t always done a great job of sharing knowledge across groups or experience levels.

We’d like to change that, and begin building a more collaborative culture around WordPress services at NC State. To that end, I’d like to announce the launch of

What is it? is a question-and-answer forum for the NC State WordPress community. In order to post a question, you must log in with your Unity ID and password.

For our initial launch, the forum is divided into four subcategories: Basics of WordPress, OIT Design’s free WordPress Blogs service, OIT Design’s premium Hosted WordPress service, and Advanced WordPress Topics. Depending on how it’s used, we may expand the forum to include more categories relating to how WordPress is used at NC State.

What else is it? is also a hub of resources for campus WordPress users, with links to documentation, IT support staff, and information for developers. If there’s something you use regularly that you think the rest of us would benefit from—or if there’s something you’ve been looking for and you think should be included—post about it in the forums or email us at

Doesn’t NC State already have a Help Desk?

Yes, and they do a fantastic job! But this is a little different.

If you have a problem with your WordPress site, you should absolutely continue to contact the Help Desk at or 919.515.HELP (4357). That’s still the best way to get help when your site goes down, your users get locked out, you’ve got an error message you don’t understand, or something else has gone wrong.

But if you have a question, or if you’re looking for a way to add a new function to your website, or if you’re just curious about how something works, is the place for you. Chances are, someone else at NC State either already has a solution, or will benefit when you find the answer. This is an opportunity to share knowledge and support one another.

Who maintains this site? is hosted as a part of our free WordPress Blogs service and is managed by us a OIT Design. OIT Design staff (me, Jen, David, and our new interns Thi and Will) will be monitoring the questions posted and responding in a timely manner.

But this isn’t just OIT Design answering questions. We’d like you—yes, you!—to be involved. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned multisite administrator, the whole campus community will benefit from your perspective and experience.

This sounds great! How do I get started?

Head over to to start asking your questions and answering the questions posted by your NC State colleagues!

We’re growing!

Good news everyone

Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth

Good news, everyone! OIT Design is growing!

Today we were able to post our new full-time position — check it out! We’re very excited to be able to bring another full-time position into our group to help us manage both our on-going support of campus and all of our clients. Keep an eye on here for an introduction to our new person in the coming months!

Were also happy to announce that our interns started this week! Thi and Will are rising seniors in the College of Management and we’re excited to put them to work. We’ll be introducing them to the wonderful world of WordPress, plus using them to help with troubleshooting and support of campus and our client base. You can be sure one of their assignments will be to write fascinating blog posts for this site so be sure to check back for fascinating blog posts.

OIT Design Services, By The Numbers

The current fiscal year ends on June 30, and we’ve been hard at work closing out projects and preparing for a wave of new work starting July 1. This seems like a good time to share some numbers.

  • 29 – Sites in our Hosted Drupal service. We’re discontinuing Hosted Drupal in the coming fiscal year, so most of these clients are already in the process of transitioning to another service.
  • 40+ – Sites in our Hosted WordPress service. The exact number is a little bit in flux, but the number of sites in Hosted WordPress has more than doubled in the last year.
  • 690+ – Sites in our WordPress Blogs environment. The exact number changes on a day-to-day basis, but the number of sites in this service has more than doubled as well– there were about 340 sites this time last year.
  • 140 – Web hosting accounts through OIT, separate from the services listed above. We have maintenance and design clients with many of these sites as well.
  • 60+ – Number of sites in the DASA WordPress multisite. Jen wrote about that project last week, and we’re eager to use the multisite model with some of our other large clients.

Looking ahead to the next fiscal year, we have some big projects coming up, plus some exciting internal changes: new WordPress themes, new staff, and interns!