Accessibility Matters for Your College or University Websiteby Kim Ward
ESTIMATED READING TIME: 5 minutes
Complying with legal accessibility requirements is not the only reason your college or university should pay attention to accessibility on your .edu. An accessible site is a highly usable site for everyone.
Creating an accessible website helps you to better understand the diversity of your site visitor. Many have different kinds of disabilities, such as visual, motor, auditory, speech, or cognitive impairments. In our lifetime, we all experience these situations in one way or another — we break an arm, or we experience blurry vision or color blindness, etc. These impairments could be temporary or permanent.
Build your college or university website to follow proper standards and it’ll become easier for all of your site visitors to perceive your web content.
However, there are legal reasons to do it, too.
Education institutions in the United States are required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which includes provisions for web accessibility. Here are the basics you need to know:
Section 508 includes standards that apply to electronic and information technology procured by the federal government, including computer hardware and software, websites, phone systems, and copiers. Members of the public with disabilities should have comparable access to publicly available information and services.
In January 2017, the Section 508 standards were updated to incorporate the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0’s Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are part of a series of web accessibility guidelines published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The WCAG is a globally recognized and technologically neutral set of accessibility guidelines for web content. WCAG 2.0 is divided into three conformance levels: A, AA, and AAA. Success criteria at each level are organized based on the effect they have on design or visual presentation of the pages. The higher the level, the more restraining it becomes on design. For example, let’s look at Guideline 1.4, Distinguishable.
Guideline 1.4: Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from background.
As noted on w3.org: “This guideline is concerned with making the default presentation as easy to perceive as possible to people with disabilities.” Use of color and contrast are two of the key success criteria for this guideline, thus affecting your .edu design. To ensure your .edu complies, make sure there is enough color change or contrast in elements so you can acquire a higher certification.
Web Accessibility Initiative-Accessible Rich Internet Applications is a technical specification published by the W3C that details how to increase the accessibility of web pages. These written standards make it easier to understand and comply with accessibility rules.
Seven User Characteristics You Must Consider
Web developers cannot assume all site visitors who access our content are using the same web browser or operating system as we are, nor can we assume they’re using a traditional monitor for output, or keyboard and mouse for input. Site visitors may use either audible output (products called screen readers that read web content using synthesized speech) or tactile output (a refreshable Braille device) to help them navigate your site.
Here are seven user characteristics necessary to keep in mind when considering accessibility:
- Unable to see/dyslexia. Individuals who are blind use either audible or tactile output. Individuals with dyslexia may also use audible output along with software that highlights words or phrases as they are read aloud.
- Low vision. Individuals with low vision may use screen magnification software that allows them to zoom into all or a portion of the screen. Many others with less-than-perfect eyesight may enlarge the font on websites using standard browser functions, such as Ctrl + in Windows browsers or Command + in Mac browsers.
- Physical disability. Individuals with physical disabilities that affect their hands may be unable to use a mouse. Instead, they may rely exclusively on keyboard or use-assistive technologies such as speech recognition, head pointers, mouth sticks, or eye-gaze tracking systems. Physical impairment may be permanent or temporary, such as holding a baby or having a broken arm.
- Unable to hear. Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing are unable to access audio content, so video must be captioned and audio transcribed.
- Using a mobile device. Individuals who access the web using a compact mobile device, such as a smartphone, face accessibility barriers similar to that of individuals with disabilities. When using a small screen, they may need to zoom in or increase the font size, and they are likely to use a touch interface rather than a mouse.
- Limited bandwidth. Individuals may be on slow internet connections if they’re located in a rural area or lack the financial resources to access high-speed internet. In fact, 60 percent of global internet users have access to only 2G internet speeds. These visitors benefit from pages that load quickly and videos with transcripts or captioning.
- Limited time. Very busy individuals may have too little time to watch an entire video or listen to an audio recording, but they can quickly access its content if a transcript is available.
Five Fundamentals of Site Accessibility
At mStoner, we consider the following list of items when building websites. Some of these items can be tested using an automated checker, but some take an experienced developer to uncover and fix the issues.
1. Proper use of HTML headings
- Headings provide an outline of the page, so visitors can understand how the page is structured and how all the sections relate to one another.
- Headings provide a target, so nonsighted visitors can jump from heading to heading with a single keystroke.
2. Accessible with keyboard
Many site visitors are physically unable to use a mouse and might navigate through the page using their keyboard alone. When navigating between features by using the tab and other keys (e.g., enter or space to “click” the element that currently has focus, arrow keys to move within a widget such as a menu or slider, or escape to close a pop-up window), we consider the following questions:
- Can visitors access all features?
- Can visitors operate all controls?
- Is it reasonably easy to tell where you are on the page?
3. Accessible image
If a web page includes images, the content of those images is, by default, inaccessible to people unable to see the images. Whether to and how to address this issue depends on the purpose of the image within the context of the web page.
4. Accessible menus
Website navigation menus often include dropdown or flyout menus, in which submenus are hidden by default and visibly appear when the mouse hovers over or a visitor clicks a top-level menu item. These sorts of menus can present major accessibility challenges for visitors unless coded properly.
5. Effective use of color
There are two accessibility issues related to choice of color:
- Color differences: Some visitors are unable to perceive color differences; therefore, it is important to avoid using color alone to communicate information. For example, if a link is blue, it should also be underlined so visitors who are unable to perceive color differences can distinguish links from surrounding text.
- Contrast: Some visitors have difficulty perceiving text if there is too little contrast between foreground and background colors.
Need Help Making Your Site Accessible?
mStoner’s accessibility checkup will provide you with actionable information to help you comply with legal accessibility requirements, improve website performance for the seven major user characteristics, address major components of your .edu, and increase outreach. If you’d like to learn more, email mStoner’s director of marketing, Mallory Wood.