By Chaya Sophon

From the last week in June, I finally got my PIV card which gives me access to be a digital web author on Lowell National Historic Park’s website. With this came the time for learning the tools of the National Park Service (NPS)’s content management system (CMS). The park’s CMS platform is Commonspot, owned by a company called Paperthin. You may know of other CMS platforms, such as WordPress. So I had to orient myself to the CMS guidelines of the park system, which with it includes accessibility considerations for authoring web content. I had the privilege of not really considering accessibility before taking the NPS’s web course trainings.

Something to consider out of this, is how I could make any content online accessible as possible, so sometimes the answer is simpler is better. It’d be tempting to pick interesting fonts, for example, but color and sizing needs to be considered for disabilities related to sight loss and mobility respectively. The park’s CMS handles a lot of the formatting needs, but digital authors are still responsible for addressing accessibility needs, such as: text equivalents are provided for images, appropriate naming of links, videos are captioned and audio-described, PDFs are accessible, etc.

My week mostly consisted of web training and taking the first steps into the CMS, but on July 1st I took a boat tour on the Pawtucket Canal. I had been on the Merrimack River, but I never went on to the canals before. On the tour, the history of who dug the canals was taught, and obviously it was extremely dangerous as they had to clear it before dynamite was even invented. The park preserved the historic guard locks to go through passing from canal to river. The water would rise as the tour boat was secluded in the locks, then we’d match the river’s water level to continue the tour. All that plus the fact that the park still maintained the traditional way of operating the locks by having human muscle push it open and close. The sights along the river would be completely different compared to the times of the city’s founding. Now there are trees hugging virtually the whole riversides, but in the past this would be cleared to allow horse-drawn barges and boats. And despite the change in the landscape over time, it’s been an ever-present thing that kids would jump into the canal and swim in it (when they should definitely not)!


Figure 1: Boat tour on the Pawtucket Canal

The other thing of note on this short week before the 4th of July, was that I attended the park’s reading of Frederick Douglas’s “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” Between the public, park staff, and volunteers a wide demographic read different sections of Douglas’s speech in the historic St Anne’s Church. Kirk Boott and the Merrimack Manufacturing Corporation made provisions for the religious workers of their company, and the Church has been in Lowell since 1884. The only other time I stepped inside the church was for my old kung fu lessons.

Figure 2: Reading of “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

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