Developing An Accessible Archival Website

Drew Williams1, Colleen Regan2, Jack Skelton-Miller2, Jessica McCall2, Caitlin Dobson2, Dennis Tomashek2, Sheikh Iqbal Ahamed1, Roger O. Smith2

1Math, Stat. and Comp. Sci. Department, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI

2R2D2 Center, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI


The ubiquity of the web allows primary sources and stories of the past to reach a wider audience than ever before.  Archival websites, such as those used by university and public libraries, play a large role in showcasing these primary sources – ensuring the accessibility of these websites and the media contained therein is of utmost importance.  Unfortunately, a “best practices” example of an archive website is difficult to come by.  To remedy this problem, we’ve developed an accessible archive website to house The Fred Sammons Archives, media donated to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee by Fred Sammons, PhD (Hon.), OT, FAOTA.  By focusing on both accessibility of the site housing the media, and the Fred Sammons Archives media itself, we hope to offer a top-tier experience for reading about the life and work of Fred Sammons for users of all abilities.


 A screenshot of a website, featuring a navigation menu at the top of the screen, a search field and search limiters in the center, and a footer with information about the contents of the website and supplementary links at the bottom.  Logos of the R2D2 center and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the heading organizations of the project, are on the left and right sides of the footer respectively.
Figure 1: The Fred Sammons Archive website front page
Problems can crop up when an individual wants to access material developed before the internet started to archive data in 1996 (Potter, 2012). The creation of web archives allows future generations to access this data in an efficient manner, and can preserve historical information that would otherwise be unobtainable. As an example, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UW-Milwaukee) recently created the Fred Sammons Archive Project to assure that future generations can obtain stories and information about Fred Sammons and his assistive technology (AT) empire.  As one of the 100 most influential people within the occupational therapy field, (American Occupational Therapy Association, 2017) Sammons’ work has the potential to inspire and encourage future occupational therapists once hosted online.

This photograph was taken of Sammons during an AOTA conference in the 1960’s. Sammons is standing behind a parked car with the back trunk open. In his left hand is a cardboard sign that reads “OT? RIDE FREE”. To his right is a large suitcase. Sammons is known for offering rides to AOTA conference attendees from the airport to the convention site. Many photographs are documented in the web archive database to show Sammons throughout his business endeavors.
Figure 2: Photograph of Fred Sammons holding a sign at an AOTA conference from the archives.
However, when enabling such widespread access to archived material, developers needs to ensure that the archival website is designed for universal access. No one template exists that combines best practices for website access and media access, especially in the context of creating an archive website.  To solve this issue, we have created a template that follows general website accessibility specifications set by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), in addition to ensuring media displayed on the website follows guidelines for universal access. In doing this, we hope to both create an accessible home for Fred Sammons’ and assist other web developers in creating accessible archival websites for storing historical information for future generations.


This project began as a direct result of the donation of the Fred Sammons Archive to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee – a collection of material representing the life and works of Fred Sammons.  The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) recently named Fred Sammons one of the most influential 100 people within the occupational therapy (OT) field.  Sammons started his career in 1955 as an occupational therapist and continued for the next 60 years as an innovator and entrepreneur. In 1958, Sammons started Sammons-Preston as a mail-order business that sold adaptive equipment such as button hooks and swivel spoons. Sammons-Preston grew into a multi-million dollar national company and sells rehabilitative and medical equipment to most healthcare professionals.

This document is one of many handwritten purchase orders sent to Be OK Company. Sammons began Fred Sammons, Inc. as a mail order business from the basement of his residence. He would receive many letters, such as this one, from hospitals and other rehabilitative facilities to fulfill rehabilitative assistive device orders.
Figure 3: Photograph of handwritten document (handwritten purchase order) from archives.
The Fred Sammons Archival Project contains digitized physical materials, 3D scans of artifacts created by Sammons, and video interviews between Sammons and Roger O. Smith, PhD, OT FAOTA, RESNA Fellow. The materials from the project are displayed on a fully accessible website and can be utilized as a reference for students, practitioners, and educators. 

Accessibility of Archival and Library Websites

In the Fred Sammons Archive Project, there are a lot of typed documents to Sammons from various people regarding Fred Sammons, Inc. This letter is an inquiry from an inventor asking Sammons to license the patent of their invention. Sammons received numerous request like this because of his ability to manufacture equipment in a large scale.
Figure 4: Photograph of typed document (letter to B.K. Sales re: new product idea) from archives.
Investigating the literature for other accessible archive projects turns up work calling for improved accessibility of library websites.  It is important that these sorts of websites prioritize accessibility to offer students and other information-seekers equal access to primary sources that may be necessary for school. (Fulton, 2011) A variety of suggestions for proper development of accessible library websites can be found, including developing for mobile first (Riley-Huff, 2012) and ensuring links make sense sans context, media has proper transcripts, etc. (Association of Research Libraries, 2014)  A single web application template for archive or library website access would be helpful for showcasing such suggestions.

Website Development and Universal Design

Our primary goal in developing the Fred Sammons website was to consider universal design – that is, design for all users of all abilities – first, and prioritize web accessibility. As an example of a gold standard of web accessibility, we turned to ACCESS-ed, a website that seeks to promote universal design in higher education. (R2D2 Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee., 2015) This website was also created with universal design in mind, evident by these site details:

  • Equivalent Text Descriptions for non-text items (essential and detailed descriptions of non-text items for users with visual impairments.) (R2D2 Center of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 2015)
  • A website design that emphasizes proper contrast and text size for all pages.
  • Built-in controls for page contrast, font size, and page simplification
  • Continuous updates to ensure compliance with standards/guidelines.
  • An accessibility statement naming these accessibility features and promising to listen to ongoing feedback to ensure a fully accessible website in the future.

In this screen capture of the video interviews, Sammons is demonstrating the swivel spoon. Sammons shows Smith how a swivel spoon can help a person with unsteady arm movements. The video interviews discuss Sammons’s  legacy and how Fred Sammons, Inc. developed into a multi-million dollar company. The topics range from Sammons’s childhood to his adventures to Africa.
Figure 5: Screenshot of video interview with Fred using an artifact
When creating the Fred Sammons Archives, we made certain to consider implementation of each of these options to ensure maximum accessibility, in addition to new accessibility provisions due to accompanying media. 

Case Study: The Fred Sammons Archives

The Fred Sammons Archive is comprised of multiple types of media: documents, videos, and photographs. The focus of the Fred Sammons Archive website is the proper display of these different types of media for an online audience.  In developing the website, we worked to ensure both the accessibility of each of these types of media, and the website overall. 

General Website Accessibility

During the video interviews, Sammons and Smith are sitting at a circular table surrounded by cardboard boxes of Sammons’s archival material. In order to comply with WCAG’s accessibility guidelines, the video interviews need to be compatible with users with hearing and vision impairments. All of the video interviews will contain options for closed captioning and audio descriptions to cater to the needs of the users.
Figure 6: Screenshot of Video interview of Sammons and Smith with subtitles
The Fred Sammons Archive website was built using a JavaScript stack, ensuring cross-compatibility with all modern browsers for the Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems. Because of the amount of media the site dealt with, we opted to use a non-relational database for storing the data and links between media objects (videos and related images of objects mentioned in the videos, for example).  We also opted to use React.JS, a JavaScript UX framework that generates new pages based on objects in a database and accompanying metadata for the objects. This framework allows for accessibility elements, such as EqTDs, to be generated automatically based on information available (or not available) in the database.  Additionally, the React.JS project also allows for accessibility of UX elements to be tested with a library developed by its creators.

The website itself was designed with proper color and contrast, and text that is no more than 15 words across the screen at any point for readability.  This mirrors the readability standards for PowerPoint slides.  The website is also designed to be responsive, shrinking and expanding elements as the screen size the website seeks to fit changes.  Additionally, the navigation bar has been styled for maximum usability; when a user hovers over a link, an underline appears – the current page is indicated via a background highlight.  Search is highlighted in the left sidebar of the website, and made available on all pages.

We have three main types of media to apply accessibility guidelines to: documents (typed and handwritten), video, and images. 


All documents are visible in a PDF format with appropriate tagging, for proper screen reader use.  To supplement this format, we also provide all handwritten text in an audio format, read aloud by Fred Sammons himself.    


As we’re using Youtube for hosting our video interviews, all video is uploaded in two individual files: a captioned video with the original audio work, and a video with audio descriptions added as appropriate, to provide context for actions occurring in the interview.  Captions are displayed using Youtube’s built in captioning display services. 


Images are all equipped with both essential and detailed equivalent text descriptions.  The former provides basic information about the contents of an image, and the latter provides additional information about the image for users with visual impairments. (R2D2 Center of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 2015)

We hope that these provisions will ensure that all users can properly access the media contained in the Fred Sammons Archives.


In conclusion, developing the Fred Sammons archives with universal design in mind from the start benefits our goal of ensuring the widest possible audience can benefit from his work and stories.  We do plan on releasing this template for public use, with the hope that it can inspire other archive and library websites to ensure that their content meets accessibility standards.  In doing this, we can ensure that users of all abilities can benefit from the information resources the internet and its archives can offer.


American Occupational Therapy Association. (2017). 100 Influential People. Retrieved from The 100 Influential people:

Association of Research Libraries. (2014). Standards & Best Practices. Retrieved from Web Accessibility Toolkit:

Fulton, C. (2011). Web Accessibility, Libraries, and the Law. Information Technology and Libraries, 34-43. Retrieved from

Potter, A. (2012). A Vision of the Role and Future of Web Archives: The Web Archive in Today’s World. Library of Congress: The Signal. Retrieved from

R2D2 Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. (2015). ACCESS-ed. Retrieved from ACCESS-ed:

R2D2 Center of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. (2015). Equivalent Text Descriptions. Retrieved from Access-ED:

Riley-Huff, D. A. (2012, October). Web Accessibility and Universal Design : A Primer on Standards and Best Practices for Libraries. Retrieved from ALA TechSource:

Web Accessibility Initiative. (2016, September). How to Meet WCAG 2.0. Retrieved from W3C:


We graciously thank Fred Sammons for his charitable donation of his work to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Without his contributions and support, this work would not have been possible.