ATG Special Report – South Carolina Public Libraries Website Home Pages Accessibility

by | Sep 27, 2012 | 1 comment

by Mary E. Anyomi  (Irvin Department of Rare Books & Special Collections, Ernest F. Hollings Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208)  <anyomim@mailbox.sc.edu>

and Mae F. Jones  (Processing Services, Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208)  <jonesm@mailbox.sc.edu>

With the advent of the Internet in the 1990’s, public libraries have reinvented their services to the public (e.g., virtual employment resources and library outposts etc.) to meet the constantly changing needs of the community.  Public libraries have incorporated Websites into their services because individuals are using the Internet to answer their information needs whether a person is at a computer terminal in the library or at home.

Each public library provides traditional access to their collections: walking into the library, talking face to face with librarians, and physically handling books and materials in different formats.  By providing remote access through Website, libraries provide easy and quick access to their collections and information resources.  Accessing library resources and patron accounts remotely through a public library Website is a frequent activity: 158 million Americans (65 percent) have paid these types of “virtual visits” to libraries (Becker, Crandall, Fisher, Kinney, Landry, Rocha, 2010).

Halub states library users value the services that they access from their desktops because the services save time.  They also appreciate being able to access services at their convenience, without being restricted by the library hours of operation.  The library values its Website because it brings increased visibility within the community.  Each library is responsible to ensuring all individuals have access to library resources.  For example, a variety of services can be providing for individuals with disabilities (e.g., accessible height viewing/listening workstations, Zoomtext, Kurzweil reader, large print books, and recorded books).  According to the (South Carolina Disability Lawyers, 2010), the American with Disabilities Act: July 26, 51.2 million people who have some level of disability.  They represent 18 percent of the population.  The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 defines the term disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities an individual, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment.  Findings from the 2005 American Community Survey, an estimated 681,000 people in South Carolina have a disability, or 17.7% of the population age (PAS Center for Personal Assistance Services, n.d.).

South Carolina and other state disability statistics provide federal and state agencies with data to assess the effectiveness of policies for possible revisions, to determine social needs (e.g., assistive technology), and to ensure individuals with disabilities full participation in society activities (e.g., employment, transportation, education, communication, and community life).

Legislation

The federal government passed several laws to ensure that individuals with disabilities will be able to fully participate in all areas of society (e.g., employment, housing, public accommodations, education, transportation, communications, recreation, institutionalization, health services, voting, and access to public services) (Paciello, 2000).

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990 but officially went into effect in 1992.  According to the ADA, state and local governments that received federal funding must comply with the standards of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires that state and local governments must make appropriate accommodations for individuals with disabilities to provide equal access to programs, services, or activities.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act as amended in 1998 changed two factors: (a) redefined the federal procurement procedures to include the accessibility needs of employees who have disabilities and companies providing a solution to an accessibility problem and (b) stated that the Department of Justice will monitor federal agencies to ensure compliance with the legislation.  The main point of the legislation is to ensure access to electronic information and technology for individuals with disabilities who are federal employees and to the public.

Besides creating legislation and policies which focus on information access, the federal government has established standards which provide guidance in the development of accessible information.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 established standards which are related to the transmission of information involving telecommunication interfaces and their operating environments.  Section 255 Telecommunications Access for People with Disabilities requires that telecommunication manufactures and service providers ensure accessibility of equipment and services to people with disabilities.  Additionally, Section 256 requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to oversee the effort to guarantee interconnectivity of telecommunication networks to people with disabilities (Paciello, 2000).

The Assistive Technology Act of 1998 or Tech Act enhances the accessibility of technology for individuals with disabilities.  The Act provides federal funding to states to develop assistive technology awareness programs.  The Act provides grants to assist states in the development of new and innovative programs that assist people with disabilities in the purchase of assistive technology devices and services (Paciello, 2000).

Federal and South Carolina state programs that enhance the lives of people with disabilities:

  • South Carolina Assistive Technology Program
  • South Carolina Protection & Advocacy for People with Disabilities
  • South Carolina Client Assistance Program
  • South Carolina Access
  • DBTAC: Southeast ADA Center
  • U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Under the Library Services and Technology Act of 1996, the South Carolina State Library receives federal funding for public libraries which requires compliance with the standards enacted under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, amended in 1998.  Presently, the state of South Carolina does not have legislation which supports accessibility and using technology by individuals with disabilities.  The state of South Carolina follows Section 508 standards for state agencies.  Where Section 508 standard coverage is lacking, it is recommended by the South Carolina Access that state agencies follow Web content accessibility guidelines established by the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Imitative (Access-SC).

Importance of Public Library
Websites to the Community

The primary purposes of the public library are to provide resources and services in a variety of media to meet the needs of individuals and groups for education, information and personal development including recreation and leisure (Gill, 2001).  The Website is the library’s electronic platform in which resources are organized and services offered to everyone who has access to the Website.

The library’s Website provides organization and presentation of electronic information (e.g., databases and schedules) for the patrons.  Website organization plays an important role in delivering information to the public (e.g., extensive research or simply finding a book and its location in the library’s collection.)

In addition to providing information, the Website provides a means of archiving publications and internal resources published by the library (e.g., Richland County Public Library’s Oral History Collection).  The Website may house digitized copies of special collections, manuscripts, or local databases.  For example, the Aiken-Bamberg-Barnwell-Edgefield regional library systems offer senior citizens databases and Websites to meet their specific needs.

Public libraries, also, work with area schools to maintain copies of school assignments, and reading lists.  The Internet allows librarians to organize frequent requested information.  The Marion County Library offers for individuals looking for employment a new Website entitled “WORKSC.”  This Website offers employment resources (e.g., job training tutorials) which will help individuals to prepare for obtaining employment and prepare for an interview.

The library Website is a depository of retaining location information to other Websites which will enhance the opportunity for a patron looking for information.  The Lexington County Public Library Systems offers the EBSCO Small Engine Repair or Mángo Languages to the public.

Individuals living in the Columbia, SC area explain the importance of the public library [Richland County Public Library] is to them:

Dee Tisdale writes the Richland County Public Library  is a very big educational center with a large variety of resources on everything a child or an adult would not only want to know about but also on topics and objects they dream about. The library is gorgeous but the real reason for it being successful is because of the employees who help make it a better learning institution by their never-ending smiles and willingness to help someone in need. I will always trust the Richland County Public Library, it is a part of the community and the heart of information of for the past, present and future.  (Tisdale, 2010, Sept. 14)

Another Columbia resident, Carrie Hilton says the following about Richland County Public Library.  The library is important to me because it houses a wealth of resources that allows me to do research on any topic all in one place plus, these resources are free.  The library also has a knowledgeable staff available to assist in locating research documentation.  I can go to the library for enjoyment or learning purposes.  The media area affords me the opportunity to listen to books on CD, listen to a music CD or check out a DVD for my viewing pleasure.  The library is the best place for a family night out.  It is a safe place and there is something for everybody regardless of age. (Hilton, 2010, Sept. 15)

Zella Hilton has lived in the Columbia, S.C. area for nineteen years.  She says the library [RCPL] to me is the vast amount of information available absolutely free of charge to the public.  It is a limitless research giant that holds unlimited research materials available in several medians on any subject matter I may need to research.  I would consider the library to be the biggest “USB” in the world.  Although it has a unlimited storage capacity, I feel as though it would be useless without the smiling faces of staff members eager to assist me when I need help. (Hilton, 2010, Sept. 16)

Literature Review
Website Accessibility Studies

Many studies focused on Website accessibility have been conducted to explore the accessibility problems emerging from the fieldwork and how to improve the Website to increase accessibility for all Websites.

A selective review of research literature suggests that public library Website is not all accessible:  Brobst, 2009; Van Bodengraven and Pollitt, 2003; Yannie, 2004; Lilly and Van Fleet, 2000.

Research by (Brobst, 2009) focused on Florida’s public libraries home pages.  Brobost found only 21 out of 78 public libraries home pages without accessibility errors.  His findings indicate that the other 73 percent of home pages have at least one error based on the Section 508 standards.  Brobst’s research findings also suggest there is a correlation between “accessibility performance to library income level and income per service population” to the level of accessibility obtained by each library.  Consequently, the author suggests the higher level of total income per capita the fewer accessibility errors.  This statement suggests that larger library systems have greater resources and technology support will more likely have a fully accessible home page.

Yannies’ research indicates that even through there has been an increase for individuals with disabilities to have hardware and software by way of access accommodations to automated information systems, the percentage 15.4 does not equate “equal access.”  The visually impaired individuals still struggle with navigating Minnesota libraries Websites.  The author studied the academic and public libraries in Minnesota disability services and accessibility of library Websites with the help of individuals with visual disabilities.  Responses varied from helpful technology and resources to no disability hardware in academic and ten private academic libraries.  Four public libraries and ten private academic libraries did not have hardware, software, or materials.  In addition, some public library systems branches did not have hardware, software, or materials for individuals with disabilities.  The author’s research indicates that some Website were accommodating to individuals with disabilities and providing simplicity in navigating Web page while other Website were not complying with Website accessibility standards.

(Bodengraven and Pollitt, 2003) discuss the services that the Libraries for the Blind in the Netherlands which provide their patrons (e.g., reading materials in different formats and delivery of materials).  Also, the authors pointed out that accessible buildings and staff training contribute to individuals with print handicapped successfully obtaining materials.  Print handicapped is defined as a visual or physical condition, as determined by competent authority, which precludes the use of standard printed material because of a visual or physical disability, including certain reading disabilities (Older Kansans Information Forum, 2003).  Individuals with print handicapped have the opportunity to ask for help using the library’s online public access catalog.  Where as individuals who receive library materials by mail rarely experience coming into the library.  This delivery method may help mobile people but most print handicap prefer to receive their reading materials through regular library services (Bodengraven, Pollitt, 2003).  Online public access catalogs provide the opportunity to individuals with print handicap to have their needs addressed by Web interface.

The authors make the following suggestions to contribute to OPAC’s accessibility:

  • They should be as intuitive to use as possible;
  • Context sensitive help to improve the user experience;
  • Guidelines for new users be offered via the home page;
  • Contact Webmaster/contact librarian links be offered throughout the Website;
  • Any terminology used should be meaningful to the general public and not just the library staff; and
  • Web accessibility standards should be applied throughout the Website.

The research findings include accessibility problems that may occur with an OPAC system:

  • Repeated links (e.g., show record details);
  • Screen reader cannot determine which record;
  • Use of acronyms;
  • Time out;
  • Provide a way for screen readers to skip over header links;
  • Minimize use of pop-ups; and
  • Browser back button should consistently work

The authors suggest an accessible Web OPAC ensures:

  • Individuals using adaptive technology and software can obtain information on the Web ;
  • Provide remote access; and
  • Usage of guidelines for accessible Web pages (e.g., WAI and Section 508).

Other researchers used the HAPLR (Hennen American Public Library Rating) Index as the bases for their library selection criteria.  The HAPLR ratings provide a variety of reports to libraries that compare their performance to comparably sized libraries in their state and nation.  The ratings are based on data published by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (Hennen’s American Public Library Ratings, 2010).  Each of the libraries was evaluated by individuals with disabilities.  Lilly and Van Fleet selected one hundred libraries were selected by using the HAPLR Index criteria.  74 libraries maintained Websites.  Out of the 74 libraries only, 14 library home pages were consider to be accessible.  The study found that the 74 libraries serve large populations.  Also, the authors suggest that libraries with large service populations and low HAPLR ratings may have large resource base to serve the public.  “These relationships are likely a reflection of Hennen’s emphasis on per capita resources.”  The authors point out that research did not show a relationship between accessibility and the library resource selected to demonstrate the library’s resource base.  Based on the HAPLR Index technology criteria, less than 50 percent of academic libraries have accessible Website.  Smaller libraries listed in this study were ranked in the top 10 of their category and given the rank of “the best”.  The authors point out that even the best per capita expenditures are not enough to support the technological expertise or the sheer numbers of personnel required for equitable service in smaller libraries.  The authors suggest that libraries are classified as “the best” that their resource based may not support technology expertise and personnel need for equivalent service in smaller libraries.  The authors indicate that a lack of technological resources supports “no single national ranking system based on quantitative measures.”  Research indicates that small public library librarians may know their reader population, their needs, and offer individualized service.

Planning decisions must be made to ensure that services are provided and accessible to everyone.  Consequently, incorporating accessibility features into a Website is not difficult or expensive.

Usage of Cynthia Says

Cynthia Says is widely used as a Website accessibility validation tool.  The tool identifies errors relating to Section 508 standards and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.  Several research studies Anyomi, (2009), Kane, et al. (2007), and Sloan and Sloan (2003) have used Cynthia Says to evaluate Website home pages and report the findings.  Likewise, many organizations have either endorsed or suggest using Cynthia Says to maintain Website accessibility.  The following list is a small sample of organizations promoting Website accessibility by using the tool: State Government of Victoria, Australia. eGovernment Resource Center; Main Heading, International Center for Disability; WebAIM, American Council of the Blind; Adur District Council On-Line; State of California Web tools; UK Faculty of Public Health; and British Deaf Association etc.

Research Method
Sample

The Websites were selected from PublicLibraries.com which compiled a list of all the public libraries in the state of South Carolina.  The list consists of 46 county libraries.  A public library is defined as a general library that serves the whole population of a local or regional community free of charge or a for a nominal fee and is usually financed, in whole or in part, from public funds; it may serve the general public or special categories of users (i.e. children, members of the armed forces, or individuals with disabilities) (Google, (n.d.).  The authors selected the library’s home pages because it is the main access point to the libraries’ electronic resources and is the viewer’s first impression of the library.

The list includes two regional library systems:

  • Aiken-Bamberg-Barnwell-Edgefield Regional Library
  • Allendale-Hampton-Jasper Regional Library

A regional library serves more than municipality and relies on joint planning and joint financing of library service, the system improves existing library service and utilizes what federal funding becomes available.  Each system adapts its service to the needs of the libraries it serves.  Therefore, there are services offered in one area that are not offered in another, however, they come together to work with the State Library to develop goals and determine plans for improving library service throughout the state (South Carolina Library History Project, 2010).

Instruments

Each Website was evaluated using two automated evaluation tools: Cynthia Says and Section 508 Accessibility Checker tool.  The authors selected the multi evaluation method to avoid bias in the project results. Each tool is a free Web based tool and validates one page at a time.  Both Cynthia Says and Section 508 Accessibility Checker test results refer the reader to Subpart B technical standards of the electronic and information technology accessibility standards of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 amended in 1998.  The difference between both reports is the level of detail.  Cynthia Says report discusses each standard and indicates an error in bold and lists warning.  The report also gives the reader an estimated location (i.e. line and column) on the Website page of the error warning.  On the other hand, Section 508 Accessibility Checker provides an icon representation of pass, error or warning to the reader and refers the reader to the technical standards that relates to the error.

The authors performed two Website accessibility tests on forty-one public libraries home pages in the state of South Carolina.  The purpose of this study is to find the common accessibility problems among the public libraries Website home pages.

The study used Website validation tools to validate each public library’s home page for compliance with Section 508 standards.  The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires all public institutions that receive federal funding to provide equal access to individuals with disabilities.  Consequently, Section 508 standards deal with the use of electronic and information technology.  The data was collected in January 2010 through June 2010.  Each Website home page was evaluated by both validation tools and a report printed of each test results.

Procedures

Each Website home page was analyzed by using Cynthia Says and Section 508 Accessibility Checking Tool are Web based portals and are free.  Both Cynthia Says and Section 508 Accessibility Checking Tool check one page at a time.  Each portal compares the html code against Section 508 standards checklist.  The Web page URLs’ was inserted and the system checked the home page html code.  The system created a report listing errors and warnings.  Also, each portal reported checklist items which passed the validation test.

For each Website, we recorded the number of errors found on each home page by each tool.  For example, the most prevalent error is an image without an alternative text (alt text) or description for the image.  Each error reported by both validation tools was manually verified on each home paged to avoid false reporting of an error.  Excel was used to calculate the standard deviation for both validation tools.  We also wanted to find the statistical significance between Cynthia Says and Section 508 Accessibility Checking Tool findings.  We wanted to find the statistical significance between Cynthia Says and Section 508 Accessibility Checking Tool findings.

Limitations of the Study

The present study has certain limitations that need to be taken into consideration when reviewing the study and its contributions.  This study used a small sample.  The ongoing Internet technological changes are as natural development in the architecture of the Internet and provide misunderstanding of the study results.  Another limitation is the Web accessibility testing tools evaluation of one page at a time.  Their functionality is limited to evaluating contents found at just one URL (WebAim, 1999-2010a).  The two regional library systems may provide another limitation to the study because each county in each regional system does not have its own  public library Website which would house unique collections (i.e. area archaeological findings or historic area information).

According to W3C, many accessibility test results require human judgment and must be evaluated manually.  Also, evaluation tools are prone to producing false or misleading results such as not identifying or signal incorrect code.  The results from evaluation tools should not be used to determine conformance levels unless they are operated by experienced evaluators who understand the capabilities and limitations of the tools in order to achieve accurate results. Web accessibility evaluation tools cannot determine the accessibility of Websites.  The test results provide an overview of the Website accessibility status and are consider the starting point to ensure accessibility for everyone.

In addition to the above mentioned limitations, the Marlboro County Public Library is named the Marian Wright Edelman Public Library. Consequently, the researchers could not locate the Website’s URL before the Section 508 Accessibility Checking Tool URL closed.

Findings and Discussion

The results of this study present a mixed view of South Carolina public libraries home page Web accessibility.  The two Website accessibility tools findings indicate different county public libraries home pages have achieved full accessibility and other home pages still have accessibility problems.  The sample size tested by Cynthia Says is 41 while Section 508 Accessibility Tool is 40 respectively.  The public libraries home pages were analyzed by Cynthia Says finding 312 errors while Section 508 Accessibility Checking Tool found 376 errors.  After averaging the results of Cynthia Says the mean is 7.61 while Section 508 Accessibility Checking Tool mean is 9.40.  The standard deviation and mean results are different of both tools.  Consequently, a t-test was performed to find the significance between the two means.  The difference between the two means is 0.49559095.  This finding indicates that the mean number of errors found by Cynthia Says and Section 508 differ.

Cynthia Says found 6 of 41 Websites tested contained no errors while Section 508 Accessibility Checking Tool found 13 of 40 Websites tested contained no errors.  One Website contained the highest number of errors 54 and 123 errors found from this set of data.  Also, one Website was found to have full accessibility by both tools.  Table 1 shows the frequency of errors found by both tools.

As Webcredible points out that automated accessibility tools can save a large amount of time by checking the accessibility of a Website (e.g., images have alt text).  But accessibility tools have problems associated with them.  The study findings suggest how each accessibility tool interpreted the accessibility guidelines may have contributed to the different frequency of errors.  For example, both tools found only Beaufort County Public Library free of accessibility problems.  If both accessibility checking tools are checking only Section 508 accessibility guidelines for compliance, then both tools should have found the same errors when checking each Website.

Conclusion

This survey shows that 98% of the analyzed Websites failed to satisfy Section 508 guidelines suggesting there are improvements needed to the public libraries Website home pages to providing access for disabled user groups.  This study is a first step in researching why so many South Carolina public libraries Websites remain inaccessible.  This study maybe expanded state wide to cover public, academic and library association’s Website home pages.  Another possible research project is to test and analyze each South Carolina school districts home pages to ensure accessibility. A future research topic could be testing and analyzing all South Carolina state government department home pages as a group for accessibility.

The study findings support Brobst and Yannies’ research findings that some public library home pages are without accessibility errors. While other public libraries need to improve their evaluation process and remove all accessibility errors found on their home pages.  An error free Website adds value to an individual’s experience using library resources.  Brobst discussed the impact of library funding has on meeting the needs of their patrons especially individuals with disabilities.  Yannies’ findings point out that suggest that some public library systems are not fully equipped to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities.  Consequently, this finding is related to library funding.

The Internet and the World Wide Web are tremendous resources for all who can use them.  It is a fact that certain segments of the population have a more difficult time accessing these resources than other segments.  Accessibility simply means making resources usable by the largest number of people possible.  This includes people with disabilities.  In fact the issues faced by people with disabilities in accessing the Internet and World Wide Web are wide and diverse.  The techniques used to make the Internet and World Wide Web accessible range from the simple to highly complex (International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet, 1998-2007).

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