Web Accessibility 101

What is web accessibility and why is it important?

Web accessibility is the practice of making web pages usable to people of all abilities and disabilities. As the main goal of a web page is to convey information, it should be built to allow everyone access to the information.

Disabilities preventing successful navigation of web pages are more diverse and ubiquitous than you might think. Did you know that nearly 1 in 10 men suffer from some sort of color blindness? Color-blindness and other visual impairments can make it difficult or impossible for users to differentiate colors and read text. Additionally, many websites are developed without consideration of varying levels of manual dexterity; limiting clickable regions to small text or areas prevents users who cannot precisely maneuver a mouse from accessing content. These are only a few examples of many accessibility issues that web developers should be aware of when developing a website.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has put together a helpful resource illustrating various scenarios of users with disabilities. The W3C site also contains a wealth of information for accessibility guidelines and techniques. W3C also provides a before and after demonstration (called “BAD”), documenting a mock website accessibility practices are applied and after.

Another great online resource is WebAim.org. This website offers informative articles for a range of accessibility topics—from introductory articles describing what accessibility is and different disability types to advanced articles providing accessibility information for specific web elements.  WebAIM also provides WAVE, a web accessibility evaluation tool which allows you to enter a URL, run an accessibility test and view your site’s accessibility violations. A WAVE FireFox toolbar is also available which allows pages to be evaluated without sending information to the WAVE server. In addition to being convenient, this is especially helpful when evaluating intranet or password-protected pages.

For institutions such as the University of Texas, web accessibility is critical. All University web applications must meet requirements set by state law, and starting in July, the University will be evaluating pages to ensure that they are at least 90% accessible. In order to make sure pages are compliant, the University will be using a new tool WorldSpace Sync.  More information about the University’s adoption of WorldSpace Sync can be found in a previous blog post. To learn more about the University’s accessibility requirements, visit the Web Accessibility Policy Page.