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The Museo Omero website: new standards of accessibility and functionality. By Roberto Scano, Fabrizio Caccavello,Sauro Cesaretti

Roberto Scano, Fabrizio Caccavello,Sauro Cesaretti, experts in accessibility, web projects and assistive technologie

The website of the Museo Tattile Statale Omero in Ancona (www.museoomero.it) has recently been completely restructured in terms of contents and technological infrastructure, ushering in a season of major innovations.
Although the previous website had been created in compliance with the accessibility requirements stipulated by international standards and national legislation, the comprehensive overhaul of the web project has seen the introduction of new accessibility features, available to all users but intended especially for people with visual impairments. The new, revamped site also incorporates features designed to make it more appealing to everyone from a graphic and interactive point of view.
The project was carried out through the open source content management system WordPress, one of the best-known worldwide, whose content administration system (backoffice) is accessible in its basic version. So the upgrade was carried out while continuing to guarantee access both to backoffice material for management and, more importantly, the part available to the public.
During the design and implementation stages, certain indispensable requirements for this type of project were carefully observed. These included compliance with national legislation in matters of web assessibility and observing the public administration guidelines set out by the Agency for Digital Italy (AgID) and enshrined in the Civic Museum Directorate’s Plan for the Elimination of Architectural Barriers, in order to ensure an appropriate contents architecture which could be innovative while remaining consistent with what had been published on the previous site. The aim was to provide a high quality user experience for everybody, especially those with low vision of various kinds or with visual impairment.
The three web designers have pointed out the innovative features of their work in their own words.
Roberto Scano, international expert in ICT accessibility and president of IWA Italy (the association of Italian web professionals), who oversaw the choice of resources and the final accessibility control, tells us:
“The Museo Omero’s website is proof that accessibility for everyone is achievable; there’s no room for ifs and buts. By now, thanks to the standardization work carried out internationally (which I’m proud to be a part of), the world of the developers has all the rules and tools available to ensure management solutions and accessible content for all. For example, the use of WordPress makes it possible to guarantee, not only that the site accessible to the public meets international guidelines, but the compliance of the administrative side, too, thereby enabling people with disabilities to be included in the active business of creating and publishing content. Accessibility underpins development and, if applied right from the start, it enables web professionals to arrive at inclusive solutions, so that no user is excluded from a museum, or an online shop, or a digital service, or social participation on the web generally
Fabrizio Caccavello – an expert in accesssibility and the development of accessible applications, and coordinator of webaccessible.org – created the website’s user interfaces and coordinated the working group. He stresses that:
“Every single part of the interfaces used to visit the site has been carefully designed to ensure optimal access to all users, regardless of disability.
We have followed a policy of aiming to simplify the infrastructures, as far as possible removing anything unnecessary and focusing the user’s attention on what is important in the context.
Crucial to the project was the work of enhancing the interfaces for the benefit of people with low vision, those who are usually penalized when it comes to consulting a website because the web designers are concerned almost exclusively with visual interaction (with the mouse), and, in the accessible projects, with people who use the screen readers. On this site, though, also people with low vision (who don’t generally use assistive technologies but browse with high magnification) will find it easy to consult the contents because the interfaces are suited to any degree of enlargement.
Despite the meticulous attention paid to meeting accessibility requirements, the site has been designed so as to ensure that its outward appearance is in no way jeopardized – proof, if any were still needed, that it is possible to design websites to the highest accessibility specifications without compromising the aesthetic side at all.
The section devoted to the art works has been given a radical overhaul. Compared with the previous site,the cataloguing has been completely rethought so as to ensure new standards of accessibility and allow the Museo Omero to catalogue the works according to the actual visitor itineraries in place in the museum.
Sauro Cesaretti, an expert in assistive technologies and accessible development, ends with this assessment:
We tried out and tested numerous assistive technologies which people with visual impairments routinely use, so as to have as complete a set of records as possible.
Specific commands (WAI-ARIA) have been implemented to improve the user experience, always taking care to avoid information overload.
In the assessment and planning stages, it is crucial to understand what information the user will be provided with by the screen readers and what information will require specific instructions before becoming available.
Success depends on walking a fine line between providing comprehensive information and avoiding data overload.
Teamwork involving designers, developers and users with disabilities was essential in striking the right balance and ensuring that the users’ experience of the assistive technologies coincides with the expectations of those who devised the interface.
It has been a complex project, but also an exploratory, experimental undertaking, resulting in the creation of a product which is accessible to a very high level and which might be used as a starting point by other similar organizations in creating their own digital services.