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Creating an Accessible Digital World with Kennesaw State

by Rebekah Schnaubelt
November 18, 2021

Dr. Palmer, the Associate Professor and Chair of the Technical Communication and Interactive Design (TCID) department, had a vision for a usability lab at Kennesaw State University (KSU). It would include workstations with: 

  • Posters of accessibility best practices on the walls
  • Computers with eye-tracking equipment
  • Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality equipment
  • and everything else you would need to run an extensive usability test

Students could walk in and experience creating programs for a fully usable digital world.

“Right now, the space we want to use it’s just a blank room - we want to transform it into a place where students can learn how to do a full-service usability test.”

While ambitious and impactful, the usability lab needed more support than the small department could provide on its own. As a grassroots startup focused on community building and outreach, our team at Mediacurrent has a personal understanding of what the TCID department is trying to do.

Mediacurrent has never accomplished anything as just one person. Everything we’ve been able to contribute has been the work of our great team, the efforts of a lot of people, and everyone else who helped with our advancement to get to the point where we could contribute back as well. We’re excited to get to pay it forward and help the TCID department and the students of KSU.

Mediacurrent has also been involved with KSU from early on. We first crossed paths when Mediacurrent and Kennesaw State supported the first DrupalCamp Atlanta in 2009. We have since worked closely with them, spoken to classes and at lunch n’ learns, and partnered with them to provide internship opportunities.

When we learned about the usability lab, we wanted to provide a contribution that would have a direct impact in helping grow the accessibility lab, and it started with the approximate cost of the first workstation for the usability lab, donated on November 11, 2021: World Usability Day (WUD)

WUD promotes intuitive engineering and user-friendly design. Its purpose is to ensure that services and products important to life are easier to access and simpler to use, so it was the perfect day to open the usability lab. While many WUD events are conferences or webinars, our more hands-on approach with KSU reinforces our mission, value, and purpose of giving back and the value of sharing technology. 

A diverse group of students, teachers, and Mediacurrent team members hold up a giant check for the KSU usability lab

A diverse group of students, teachers, and Mediacurrent team members hold up a giant check for the KSU usability lab

Making Space for Usability at Kennesaw State

The unveiling of the lab was a WUD event, complete with a ribbon cutting ceremony! Our partner, Dave Terry, along with Creative Director Sheree Hill, 20 KSU professors and students, and the dean of TCID attended the event.

The slides set up by the entrance to the usability lab

The slides set up by the entrance to the usability lab

 By the entrance, the TCID department had set up a monitor with slides detailing what WUD is and how to get further involved. Once the launch kicked off, Dr. Palmer introduced the lab with a strong story.

“When you’re planning to cook a meal, what do you see on this box?” said Dr. Palmer as she handed Dave a box of packaged food. It took him a moment before he found cooking instructions, detailed in a small print in a corner. Dr. Palmer handed him a second box, where he quickly discovered the directions, including a visual aid. “We normally think of the challenges that the physically disabled have and apply those same principals to digital accessibility.” said Dr. Palmer. “What we’re doing here, in this lab, is advancing accessibility on the web the same as we’re advancing it in the physical world.”

Dave Terry reads the packaging of a box of food and Dr. Palmer holds up an accessibility best practices flyer

Dave Terry reads the packaging of a box of food and Dr. Palmer holds up an accessibility best practices flyer

The workstation was then introduced by Dr. Jack Labriola, who ran a test on the KSU website and guided us through examples of how the lab would be used. The first major project for the workstation is to use it for further testing against KSU’s own website to increase their own accessibility, and the next projects after that are unlimited.

Dr. Labriola explains the usability lab workstation while a student demonstrates it

Dr. Labriola explains the usability lab workstation while a student demonstrates it

We felt that our donation towards the workstation is the culmination of advancing our partnership with KSU and believing that usability and accessibility is a critical topic within the space we work. As an accessibility first organization, we are committed to contributing to a fully inclusive digital world through open-source innovations and universally designed technologies. We’re excited to continue to support Dr. Palmer’s efforts and KSU, and we believe this lab is going to make an impact with students and the next generation. We want to make the same advancements in our digital world as in our physical one.

Continued Accessibility at Mediacurrent

We were incredibly excited to be a part of Kennesaw State’s usability lab launch and a major contributor to a future of accessible innovations. Digital accessibility is at the forefront of our digital efforts, and as an accessibility-first company, we’re also excited to announce that we will soon be joining the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) as a contributing organization.

We are advocates for website accessibility for all through our mission and services, and being a part of the IAAP will help us continue to create a more accessible open source space. Our Accessibility team, who help ensure that usability is at the forefront of our projects and work, are excited to move forward with IAAP, continue to learn and stay on top of digital accessibility best practices, and earn accredited certifications.

Getting Involved

We hope this serves as inspiration and drives awareness to other companies that would like to donate or get involved with this important cause. Dr. Palmer and her team are looking for more sponsors to build out and complete the usability lab at Kennesaw State University.

So how can you contribute to an easier, more accessible digital world? Consider supporting KSU’s new usability lab by funding a second workstation, providing smaller donations, and driving awareness. With your help, the usability lab can become an accessibility hub, providing more students with hands-on learning experiences that will help them get jobs and make an impact in the wider world.

In your own space, consider doing an accessibility audit on your website. We found some great places to improve our own website after doing an internal accessibility audit. Check out what we found and get a content strategy checklist based on WCAG guidelines that you can use as a foundation for your audit. Or, if you’re a part of a higher education organization, listen to our Open Waters Podcast episode featuring Kettering University’s Donna Wick to learn about some quick accessibility wins.

If you’re interested in committing your company to being an accessibility-first organization, keep an eye out for how you can follow in our footsteps to partner with universities like KSU to create usability and accessibility labs.

And finally, if you’re ready to take a deep dive into accessibility now and aren’t sure where to start, reach out to us for an accessibility audit, training, or a Siteimprove tuneup.

Rebekah Schnaubelt headshot

Meet team member, Rebekah Schnaubelt

Rebekah performs a wide variety of tasks, including managing Mediacurrent’s social platforms and chatbot, running analytics reports, and planning both marketing and internal culture events. She enjoys cross-collaborating with the variety of teams and roles at Mediacurrent.

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