Three students in St. Clair College’s Mobile Applications Development program were up to the challenge when the LaSalle Police Service came calling with a project and a tight deadline.
Team leader Joshua Robinson and classmates Luciano Debortoli and Keagan Whiston helped the police service bring its website into compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act before Jan. 1.
Now they are tackling a bigger task: redesigning the website. It’s the capstone project for the third-year students, one for which they’ll get a mark and the satisfaction of seeing it go live once it gets a final stamp of approval from the police service.
“For all intents and purposes, this is a real-life project,” said Robinson, who was the first to be recruited after LaSalle Police approached the College for assistance.
It has given the students valuable insight into the work they can do once they graduate this spring, Debortoli said. “It’s been nice to get real-life experience in this field.”
There were highs and lows, but they came together as a team, said Whiston. “It’s definitely been a really good experience for learning how to play as a team and work together on a project as a whole.”
After a meeting with police officials in October, Robinson brought in Debortoli and then Whiston to test and refine accessiBe – an artificial intelligence software tool the service wanted to use to make its site accessible.
The accessiBe interface features are now available to users when they tap on a human figure in a blue dot in the lower right corner of the website. This brings up a menu that allows them to adjust the way web pages appear and can be read. A visually impaired user, for example, can turn on a setting the lets them use the website with their screen reader.
Robinson, Debortoli and Whiston found the accessiBe tool worked well, but it wasn’t catching everything. To be accessible, all images on a website must have text that describes them. If that was missing, accessiBe sometimes created descriptions that were too general, said Robinson. It was just one of the details the three students had to fine-tune as they combed through hundreds of website pages, documenting every change.
They worked hours after class and sometimes on weekends. It wasn’t part of their fall curriculum, but it was a perfect springboard into the website revamp.
For that, they are using a web framework that lets them customize features in a way that can’t be done with the current website, Robinson said. “The site we’re building to replace it, we’re building with accessibility in mind.”
The police service is being consulted as the project moves along.
Senior Const. Terry Seguin, who is working with the three College students, said he is impressed.
“It’s nice to know we have a generation of students that are completely capable,” he said. “If we weren’t 100 per cent confident, we wouldn’t have done this.”
A thank-you letter to the College from Deputy Chief Kevin Beaudoin for the assistance in making the LaSalle Police Service website accessible is posted on the home page.
“The time and effort that these students put into this volunteer project is just amazing,” said Peter Nikita, co-ordinator of St. Clair's Mobile Applications Development program. “Successfully completing this project in addition to having a hectic semester of classes and other work commitments demonstrates strong character, commitment and determination.”