Alex Emmerman, DSFederal’s Art Director, does everything from creating proposal illustrations to designing infographics to directing training videos. Alex, who has a degree in Fine Arts and additional technical training, has over ten years of experience as a graphic designer and digital marketing specialist; and he serves as the creative force behind all of DSFederal's visual content, on paper and online.
In 2014, Alex attended a training class on Section 508 compliance for websites. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the Federal government must be accessible to people with disabilities. By 508 standards, technology is considered accessible when users with disabilities can use it as effectively as those without disabilities.
As part of this training, Alex participated in an exercise in which students had to place orders on Amazon, using only voice assistance technology. As Alex recalls, placing the order--a task that should normally take two to three minutes--took more than 30 minutes. "It was painful," he says. The students learned about many different types of visual impairments that affect users' experience on the web; and other disabilities that designers must be aware of, such as seizure disorders that can be triggered or worsened by flashing lights and patterns.
To comply with Section 508 requirements, software and code, operating systems, and user interfaces must be compatible with assistive technologies. Not only the front end, but user profiles, comments, menus, etc., must be accessible. Accessible color schemes, which ensure that users with color blindness can see graphics and text; alternative image descriptions (alt text) that describe photos and graphics, and larger font sizes for the visually impaired are all examples of accessibility features. Page structure is also important; visually impaired users may use voice-assistance technology to read content, and so designers must ensure that headings, captions, and body text are properly coded so that the voice assistant can interpret them correctly.
Alex considers all of these technical requirements when designing web content, but as he explains, his work is about much more than ensuring compliance with regulations. "It's about inclusion," he says. With so much information and so many resources on the Web, the most important thing for Alex is to make sure that his work is "accessible to everyone."
An artist by inclination and training, Alex finds inspiration in nature, music (especially jazz), and the work of great artists (he is a museum member and frequent visitor at The Phillips Collection). Asked what makes a website stand out, he stresses both visual design and content. "A great website should have a clear message, and everything on the site should be there for a reason," he says. Alex is passionate about beautiful and inspired design, but his work with Section 508-compliant design has made him equally passionate about online inclusion and accessibility for all. DSFederal designs beautiful, user-friendly, and 508-compliant websites for Federal government customers, thanks to the talent and expertise of designers like Alex.