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June 26, 2021

UCL DH Students Contribute to Accessibility and Sustainability

Adam Crymble

We at Programming Historian were very lucky to be joined by two UCL Digital Humanities students for a summer placement this year.

Yifan Wang and Pao-Chuan Ma took on responsibilities for the project that have laid the groundwork for big improvements in the coming months related to accessibility and lesson sustainability.


Firstly, we’ve been working hard at Programming Historian to improve our website accessibility and to build skills and knowledge within our team about how to be better in future. Our very talented colleague Brandon Walsh has already made some changes to the website layout to bring it in line with best practices. We’re also grateful to UCL’s Faculty of Arts & Humanities who has paid for us to commission a report from Dr Amy Kavenagh on both best practices in web design, and also best practices in accessible writing in the digital humanities.

Our first placement student, Yifan Wang, has been working with Dr. Kavenagh’s report to help the team turn that feedback into action. Here is her description of her placement work:

In these three weeks, I have been working on testing the accessibility of lessons based on Dr Kavenagh’s report. I have finished two reports of suggestions for technical team and editorial team at Programming Historian. The key issues for the technical team was to focus on navigation settings and matters related to colour blindness. For the editorial team, they are suggested to ensure all lessons have a clear introduction including a list of learning outcomes, and that any use images is done with care, and includes detailed alternative text. Through this internship, I have built a deeper understanding of website accessibility, discovered many new ideas that I have not noticed before and have a more substantial insight into the construction of websites, which has benefited a lot. - Yifan Wang


Secondly, as part of our commitment to sustainable lessons that you can rely upon, we’ve been working hard to develop new ways of keeping older lessons up to date as technology changes. One of those is to spend some time going back and re-testing lessons after enough time passes, to make sure the instructions can still be followed easily. Our Technical Team lead, Zoe LeBlanc has given us a way to track the last time these lessons were tested, so that we can better monitor where a bit of love and attention may need to be directed.

Our second placement student, Pao-Chuan Ma, helped us test out that new workflow, and even helped us solve a couple of issues that had crept into older lessons. She describes her placement:

Hi everyone, I’m Pao-Chuan, working as a lesson sustainability coordinator with Adam Crymble these three weeks. During the work placement, I have tested some English lessons such as ‘Sustainable Authorship in Plain Text using Pandoc and Markdown’, ‘Up and Running with’ and ‘Creating an Omeka Exhibit’, as well as some lessons on network analysis and distant reading. When finding some bugs and discussing with Adam, I have learned how to make the technical contributions, including creating new issues or new branches, making pull requests and merging them. What most impressed me is that from opening an issue to all the changes have been approved successfully, it takes a little bit of time, but the process is rigorous and methodical. I appreciate the way it works and hope there is still an opportunity for me to join in this meaningful programme again and make more contributions.

On behalf of Programming Historian, thank you to Yifan and Pao-Chuan for your contributions to the project. We hope you enjoyed your time with us.

About the author

Adam Crymble, University College London.