[Athen] Starfish retention solutions

Jeffrey Dell jeffreydell99 at gmail.com
Tue Nov 8 13:27:00 PST 2011

They may have finished their upgrades to fix their accessibility
issues since this evaluation which I did back in the Spring. We did
buy in and it was not the most accessible but it was workable. My
department does not use it so I have not been in the product since the
They are easy to work with and seem to be receptive of suggestions.
Cleveland State

Accessibility Testing for Advising Software Suites
Upon request the accessibility of two software packages were examined.
The advising and retention software packages Starfish and GradesFirst
were contacted for additional information on the accessibility of
their products. Neither company had any 508 compliance information
available on their websites. Following are the results of the
When contacted Sean Gannon with Starfish responded fairly quickly. He
stated that some of the user interface was not 508 compliant. To
accommodate this issue Starfish setup a 24/7 phone support to assist
screen reader users in completing forms for scheduling appointments
and flagging students. This is not preferable but it is a short term
solution to a problem Starfish is working to resolve. When asked for
access to the sales demonstration program for testing accessibility
they complied.
On April 4th Sean e-mailed access to the Student and
instructor/advisor login. David Bowdtich met with me at 10:00AM to
observe the evaluation of the product.
The product aside from the appointment schedule forms was readable for
JAWS. It lacked basic navigation coding like landmarks and heading
levels which made navigating the pages cumbersome. When logged in as
an instructor the student search results which visually appeared below
the edit field were read by the screen reader only after navigating to
the bottom of the form. The appointment times list was problematic
because the Add appointment link for the associated time slots were
outside of the table with the times making it difficult to navigate to
with a screen reader. The appointment scheduling form was mostly
accessible with the exception of the listbox to select the type of
appointment or flag type. All other fields could be filled out with
the use of the screen reader.
The phone assistance number was listed at the top of each page for
screen reader users. When tested the representative answered the
phone quickly. There was some delay during the first call because the
phone rep did not know initially to access the demo program instead of
the production application that is regularly used. After that was
resolved it worked effectively. There were 2 concerns I had after the
phone calls. The appointments did not appear in the online calendar
after I called in to schedule them. They also did not ask for much
information to authenticate the caller. Both of these concerns were
answered when talking to Sean later.
Other accessibility issues evaluated were usability and adaptability.
The user interface was simple for the student or staff member to
navigate visually and simple to understand. For users of screen
magnifiers and higher contrasts the webpages accepted color
modifications without distorting the layout or text on the pages.
There is also a contact option in the student and staff profiles for a
video phone number which could be helpful for advisors of students who
are deaf.
At 3:00PM Sean and David called me to discuss any remaining questions
that I had about the Starfish system. When asked about the navigation
issues caused by the lack of Headers and landmarks they said that
those features will be implemented in their next version release.
They responded to my questions about issues related to the form fields
explaining that the original programming platform used had some
accessibility issues for screen readers. The newest release of that
platform has fixed its existing accessibility issues. Their plans are
to upgrade the Starfish program, moving to the newer platform, this
year. They stated that the timeframe for upgrades and 508 compliance
to be completed and released will be late 2011 or early 2012.
They addressed the concerns I had with the phone system. Because the
call was for a demo the phone representative did not complete the
transaction so the appointment did not appear in the online calendar.
For the demo they had not established user authentication protocols.
The questions for authentication used are defined by the university
during implementation.
Even though the current condition of Starfish is not ideal, it is
usable. If they did not have plans to upgrade the system and fix the
accessibility issues the phone support solution would not be
acceptable. When the few form problems are resolved and better
navigation elements are used the program will be exceptional.
Grades First
This company is difficult to get responses from. The only information
that they would volunteer is that there are known accessibility
issues. When speaking with Ron Dortch he claimed that other
universities have used the product and said that it would not pass
WebCAG tests but was usable. When I asked him for a reference to the
people who made that comment he declined to offer it.
When asked for a demo Ron enthusiastically agreed and was interested
in getting detailed results of my evaluation for their developers.
For a week I have attempted to set up a demo of their product. Even
though Ron agreed, I still have not been sent information to access
the demo. With a lack of useful information I cannot recommend this
product. If I do get access to the demo before the product decision
is made I will reevaluate it.
Between the evaluated programs Starfish is the more accessible of the
two. I do have concerns about taking Starfish representatives on
their word that they will fix the existing problems. With the
solutions that they have implemented in the interim, their
explanations and claims are acceptable.

On 11/8/11, Shoemaker, Andrew J <shoe at ku.edu> wrote:

> Our campus is thinking about deploying Starfish retention solutions. I can't

> seem to find much information on its accessibility with screen readers. Does

> anyone have any insight on if it works with screen readers?


> Andrew Shoemaker

> Associate Director

> Disability Resources

> v. 785/864-2620

> f. 785/864-2817

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