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How’d They Do That? Creating an Accessible Student Policy Manual

The Boise State School of Nursing always puts the student experience first. When it came to the question of how to create a more accessible student policy manual on their website, that student experience was also a top priority.

Alannah Ackaret
Alannah Ackaret, College of Nursing, Staff Portraits, Photo by Madison Park

“We have a series of internal and external regulatory policies shared on our website,” said Alannah Ackaret, a Technical Records Specialist in the School of Nursing. “The documents targeted to our student audience were a top priority because we didn’t want to force any student to self-disclose a disability just to access the policy information.”

Nursing recently completed a project that involved converting 51 inaccessible policy PDF documents of policy documents to a fully accessible School of Nursing Student Policy Manual.

In addition to being accessible, the content now has the added benefit of search engine indexing, robust analytics data, and easy ways to maintain quality assurance of the policy information by using supported university web tools such as Siteimprove and Yoast SEO.

We met up with Alannah Ackaret to chat about the project and what was learned during the process.

The Project

As with any large project planning and getting everyone on board was a key to success.

“Finding the time to focus on the project was challenging,” said Ackaret, but the department understood the legal and compliance ramifications of having inaccessible content on their website and the potential for creating barriers to students, faculty, and staff in their program.

“Knowing that it was important work and that I had the support of the WordPress Support Team was helpful in making the case to go forward with the project.”

Once approved to move forward, Ackaret broke the project into three phases:

Phase 1: Identify

Before the work of creating accessible webpages began, Ackaret took stock of the current policy documents School of Nursing site. “We determined all the student related documents were the top priority,” said Ackaret. For faculty and staff policies, they could handle any accommodation requests in-house until the accessible versions were available.

Phase 2: Create Accessible Versions

After they had an inventory of what documents were involved, the next step was to get the top-priority documents into an accessible format. Ackaret determined HTML webpages for each policy was the best solution for a variety of reasons, with time constraints and technical issues important considerations.

“Many of our documents were several years old and had multiple formatting issues in the source documents. This complicated the process of making the PDFs accessible,” said Ackaret. “We were also actively revising all the documents to reflect recent policy changes in light of issues highlighted during our regular yearly review. The HTML equivalent was the fastest solution.”

A key step was finding an accessible HTML template to use for the policy revisions. She found the University Policy Template available on the University’s Policy Writing Guidance page. The template was created a couple of years ago by Shad Jessen and Angie Zirschky to use for converting hundreds of university policies to an accessible, responsive format.

“We saved the template as a Google Doc,” said Ackaret. “This allowed us to track our changes and work collaboratively on policy changes. I also created dummy webpages for each of the identified policies. That helped me keep track of what was needed on the site.”

After all changes were approved in the Google Doc, the content was easily transferred to the dummy webpage she’d created. A downloadable PDF version of the final Google Doc was also linked so people could download a printable version if needed.

Phase 3: Maintenance

The final phase required implementation of an ongoing maintenance plan for current and future documents. “We are taking all current policy documents and updating them to the standard template to improve consistency,” said Ackaret. Nursing plans to continue making accessible webpages for all new policies.

“How much time did the project take?”

Ackaret said she spent about 40 hours to plan, build, and deploy the project. She also stated that if she had decided to make the previous PDF documents accessible instead of converting them to HTML she might still be working on the project today.

“What advice do you have for others facing similar projects?”

“Do not expect perfection,” replied Ackaret. “As long as it is the same content and has a heading structure, the rest can come later.” She also said that copy and pasting from a standard template and creating the dummy structure of webpages was vital in helping to quickly move the project along.

“It’s deceptively simple. It’s more about taking a bite that you can handle and leaving the rest for later.”

Also, “Keep the webpages in draft form until you need them to go live and make a checklist of what is needed.” Starting with the source documents (if you have them) is helpful since that can help reduce formatting issues.

“Redirects are your friend,” added Ackaret. This way if someone is looking for an old document link, they get to the right page. “The page hierarchy structure and page order tools available in WordPress are also essential for keeping content organized.”

How do you feel now that the project is wrapped up?

“The sweet relief knowing that the worst [inaccessible document] offenders are off the list.”

“The work might be tedious but at the end you’re making a quality of life improvement for everyone.”

Since wrapping up the project, Ackaret has received several kudos and compliments from others who comment on how easy the new School of Nursing policies are to find and use.

Looking to Start your Own Accessible Documents Project?

Do you have a similar project on your site that you’d like help getting started on? Use these resources to get started today!