Lehigh University
Lehigh University

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Making Lehigh more accessible to all

The updated interactive maps will make easier for all visitors to navigate Lehigh's campus.

As part of ongoing efforts to make its Web content accessible to the broadest population possible, Lehigh recently launched a text-only version of its Web site and unveiled a new online campus map that shows accessible entrances and handicapped parking.

The text-only version of the Web site allows people with visual and other impairments—including those with impaired mobility, the elderly, and people who may not be able to read small fonts or see low-contrast design very easily—to access much of
Lehigh’s Web content. As a result, news articles, library databases, forms and search functionality are now more widely accessible.

Lehigh’s university relations department, working in conjunction with library and technology services, are constantly on the lookout for new technology solutions to accessibility issues and also provide training and support on designing accessible Web pages.

“When we make Lehigh's Web site more usable for people with assistive technology, we make it more usable for everyone,” says Stacey Kimmel-Smith, LTS team leader for student and general services.

The new campus map was created by university relations and the Disability Advisory Committee. The committee, which has been active for about two years, has a technology and disabilities subcommittee that oversees assistive technology and Web accessibility.

The updated interactive map of the Asa Packer, Mountaintop and Murray H. Goodman campuses can be accessed here.

“The significance of the text-only version to Lehigh's Web site and the newly launched interactive map is, in a word, accessibility,” says Cheryl A. Ashcroft, assistant dean of students, academic support services, who serves as the chair of the Disability Advisory Committee. “The text-only version has opened the door to equal access for any individual who is print handicapped. With the text-only option, an individual can utilize a screen reader (text-to-speech software application) to ‘read’ Web site information. This software application is an assistive technology used by individuals who are blind, visually impaired, or learning disabled.

“The interactive map will benefit all individuals who utilize it to navigate Lehigh's campus. For individuals with disabilities, the map is a welcome sign that Lehigh acknowledges their presence as students, faculty, staff and community participants. With the accessibility features of the map layers, an individual with a mobility impairment is aware of accessible parking and entrances. The zoom feature is an added bonus for individuals with low vision. The interactive map is an excellent example of universal design.

“The University Disability Advisory Committee's efforts are evidence of Lehigh University’s commitment to equity and diversity,” Ashcroft says.

The interactive map includes building addresses, descriptions, images, related topics and Web site links, including links to detailed directions pages. Users can easily locate building information by category, A-Z listing or through a search. Topic information is also available for major subjects including admissions, academic programs and research, student life, housing, athletics, and administrative offices.

“The goal of the text-only version of the Lehigh’s Web site and the interactive maps is two-fold,” says Audra Berner, assistant director of internet services for university relations. “First, we need to communicate the resources that are available. Working with the Disability Advisory Committee, we redesigned Lehigh’s campus maps to reflect buildings and other facilities that are accessible to visitors with physical disabilities and to highlight handicapped parking areas and recommended entrances which are automated.

“Second, with offering a text-only version of Lehigh’s Web site, we want to help enable people with disabilities to perform tasks online without requiring any interaction with a representative.”

Visitors to the interactive map are able to turn on map layers for parking garages and handicap parking locations, as well as full and partial wheelchair building access points. A text-only version of the interactive maps and directions is also available to provide directions and help describe buildings and their locations to people who use screen readers and other assistive technologies.

A printable version of the map of Lehigh’s three contiguous campuses is available on Lehigh’s Web site as a downloadable PDF.

Also just launched are customized driving directions to Lehigh’s campuses, main buildings, offices, departments and events. Each driving directions page includes directions to the location, the specific building address, links to Google Maps® and MapQuest®, parking information and a link to the building on the interactive maps.

--Bill Doherty

Posted on Thursday, February 07, 2008

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