Howard University

Main Website Analysis

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Established in 1867, Howard University is a federally chartered, private, doctoral university, classified as a high research activity institution. With an enrollment of more than 10,000 students, its undergraduate, graduate, professional and joint degree programs span more than 120 areas of study within 13 schools and colleges.


The Howard University web development team consisted of only two (2) in-house developers. Skilled as they were, not much expertise was represented in the way of usability, accessibility, or conventional design standards. This was where I provided counsel.

I sought to make the University website more usable for users without disabilities and also eliminate existing barriers for students with disabilities. As such, I conducted an assessment of Howard's website in two key areas: usability and accessibility, along with remediation recommendations to be implemented by the in-house developers to create a universally-accessible digital experience for users.

The Team Dynamic + My Role

I served in an advisory/consultative role on this initiative; my subject matter expertise in universal digital design allowed me to provide counsel to a strictly development-focused team of two. I did not touch any markup, code, or stylesheets during this project. I did, however, offer technical recommendations to resolve many of Howard University's main website usability, accessibility, and functional issues.

User Research

To assess the current state of Howard University’s website, I conducted a series of tests in a classroom environment with five subjects who used their own personal equipment. These users consisted of the following subgroups which represented the most likely and most regular users of the website:

  • Howard University alumni (3), one legally blind
  • Current Howard University undergraduate students (1)
  • Prospective students (1)

In August 2016, an interview I conducted with the Disability/Technology Coordinator in the University’s Division of Student Affairs revealed that, in the month of April 2016 alone, 495 students out of the 2,200+ students registered with Disability Services visited the Testing Center in which accommodations are made available to study and take exams. With a 2015-2016 student body of over 10,000 students and so many students with registered disabilities on the campus (ranging from physical to deaf/hearing impairment), Howard University needed to be more proactive in their approach in addressing accessibility issues on their website.

Usability Review

I conducted a thorough review of The purpose of this review was to:

  • Evaluate the usability of against current industry standards.
  • Uncover and assess the severity of usability issues on the desktop and mobile sites.
  • Find opportunities to improve and optimize usability for the intended users.

A Certified Usability Analyst (CUA), I assessed the site’s compliance with current standards from industry leaders Human Factors International and Nielsen Norman Group, as well as As I discovered usability issues, I assigned each a severity rating:

  • High Severity issues. Top priority. These issues keep user from completing tasks efficiently.
  • Medium Severity. These issues impede ease of use and understanding.
  • Low Severity. These issues inconvenience the user, but do not completely stop them from completing tasks.
Accessibility Scan & Remediation

I conducted an accessibility assessment on pages falling under the primary domain using the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Section 508 Compliance Test Process for Applications (Version 3.4, dated December 2014). This document, per DHS mandate, is designed for and is intended for use by DHS Trusted Testers, individuals who have been certified “to provide accurate and repeatable Section 508 compliance test results for software and Web applications. A Trusted Tester follows the DHS Section 508 compliance Application Test Processes, uses approved test tools, and evaluates software and web applications for compliance with Section 508 standards. I am a Trusted Tester; I took the DHS Trusted Tester Training Course and passed the Certification Exam in 2015.

In many cases, a “global accessibility issue” can be resolved in a single location, rectifying multiple occurrences of said issue. I identified a number of globally-occurring issues across three primary Drupal content types at (1) the homepage level, (2) the parent page level, and (3) the child page level.

Final Report

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