Accessibility: Higher Ed Website Content

Posted: July 11, 2014

Carissa Hoel Web Account Director

More and more clients are coming to us with questions about accessibility, and we completely understand. An accessible website provides the same information and functionality to all site visitors, including those with disabilities. This is achieved through meeting specific standards surrounding website content, design and development.

Making your website accessible can be a challenge with the many rules and requirements. Since being accessible is very important to your users, and often enforced through governing bodies, these regulations shouldn’t be taken lightly. Here are some basics on accessible content that provide a starting point for the evaluation of your website (or some great things to consider as you begin a website redesign).

A note on accessibility standards:
There are different standards and some standards include different levels of requirements. For example: WCAG 1.0 (W3C Priority 1, 2, and 3), WCAG 2.0 (levels A, AA or AAA) and 508c. It is important to understand which standards you are required to meet in order to evaluate your site’s accessibility.

Why Your User Groups Need Accessible Content:

Prospective students: These user come to your website with big goals. They want to get a sense of place, gather facts, become acquainted with your institution and maybe even apply or register. If your site isn’t accessible then you are either turning away students with disabilities or forcing them to find alternative ways to get information that is readily accessible to other students.

Current students, faculty and staff: Even if you have 3rd parties or intranets that provide most of the information or functionality internal users need, they will still be visiting your external facing site from time to time. Think of all the information you have posted about student services or your library and bookstore.  (By the way, are your 3rd parties providing accessible services?)

Parents, donors, alumni and friends: Can these users learn about news, activities and find/use your campus map? Can they fill out forms? Or will they need assistance?

How to Make Your Website More Accessible:

Below are a few suggestions to help increase website accessibility. This list is not all-inclusive nor does it necessarily align with the standards your specific institution is required to adhere to.

1. Simplify your content

  • Use the clearest, most direct language possible without changing the meaning of the information. (This is helpful for accessibility but also as a general rule.)
  • Break large blocks of content into smaller pieces when appropriate.
  • Use headers that are descriptive and give the content structure.
  • If you have added a table in your content then the row and column headers need to be identified.

2. Content assisting in navigation

  • Clearly identify where a link takes the user.
  • Title each webpage so the content on the page is expected and matches. This is great for SEO as well.
  • Buttons should not be images and if they are, they must be accompanied by alt text for screen readers or software assisting the visually impaired.

3. Alternative Text

Alt text is text that serves the same purpose or provides the same information as something visual, such as a picture.

  • All visual things, such as images, graphical representations, maps, animations, graphical buttons, graphics used as bullets, etc., should be accompanied by alt text.
  • All audio, such as audio files/sounds/audio tracks, videos etc., should to be accompanied by alt text.
  • Video’s should be captioned or have a text transcript.

4. Functional Content

  • If content requires instructions in order to understand or use the functionality then these instructions should not rely solely on sensory characteristics such as shape, location or sound. For example, do not provide instructions such as Click the red button to the right. Instead use instructions such as Click the ‘Go’ button.
  • Consistently identify components that have the same functionality across the website.
  • If your content requires a plug-in or application, provide a link to access the required item.
  • If content requires user input information then labels or instructions must be provided.

Ultimately, true accessibility is hard to achieve but is very important to your site’s visitors. Although these tips are helpful in creating more accessible content, these tips alone do not meet all accessibility standards. If you have questions or want to talk in more detail, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re happy to help.

To learn more about the requirements for different standards, visit the following websites:
WCAG 1.0:
WCAG 2.0 (levels A, AA or AAA):