Getting started with accessibility

The University of Washington is required by law to provide programs and services that are accessible to all qualified participants, including those with disabilities.  But what does that mean for you? What do you need to know?

How do I make my technology accessible?

This website provides a growing number of how-to pages with step-by-step guides for making particular types of content accessible. To learn more about accessibility of particular technologies, consult the pages that are most relevant for the technologies you’re using or are especially concerned about.

There are many other resources on this site as well. Please explore freely using the site navigation menu.

Where do I get help?

The UW has an active accessible technology community, and its members are eager to help and support one another. See Events & Collaboration for face-to-face learning opportunities and ways to get connected with the community. See Getting help with accessibility for help with specific needs related to providing accessible technology at the UW.

If you need help finding resources related to disability accommodations or other disability-related services, see Disability resources at the UW.

What is accessibility?

Accessibility is the degree to which a product, device, program, service, resource, or environment is available to a given user.  If a building on campus has a wheelchair ramp leading to its main entrance, that entrance is accessible to wheelchair users. If a lecture includes sign language interpreters, that lecture is accessible to attendees who are deaf or hard of hearing and who understand sign language.

What is accessible technology?

Accessible technology is technology that has been designed in a way so that it can be accessed by all users. This includes electronic documents, websites, software, hardware, video, audio, and other technologies. People who interact with technology are extremely diverse. They have a wide variety of characteristics, and we cannot assume that they’re all using a traditional monitor for output, or keyboard and mouse for input. Consider these users:

  • Most individuals who are blind use either audible output (products called screen readers that read web content using synthesized speech), or tactile output (a refreshable Braille device).
  • Individuals with learning disabilities such as dyslexia may also use audible output.
  • Individuals with low vision may use screen magnification software that allows them to zoom into a portion of the visual screen.
  • Many others with less-than-perfect eyesight may enlarge the font on websites using standard browser functions, such as Ctrl + in Windows or Command + in Mac OS X.
  • Individuals with fine motor impairments may be unable to use a mouse, and instead rely exclusively on keyboard commands, or use assistive technologies such as speech recognition, head pointers, mouth sticks, or eye-gaze tracking systems.
  • Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing are unable to access audio content, so video needs to be captioned and audio needs be transcribed.
  • Individuals may be using mobile devices including phones, tablets, or other devices, which means they’re using a variety of screen sizes and a variety of gestures or other user interfaces for interacting with their devices and accessing content.

Accessible technology works for all of these users, and countless others not mentioned.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) summarizes web accessibility nicely in their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG). WCAG 2.0 is organized into the following four key concepts:

  • Web content must be perceivable
  • Web content must be operable
  • Web content must be understandable
  • Web content must be robust

Although written specifically for web content, these principles apply to other technologies as well. There are many possible approaches to attaining accessibility as defined by these four concepts.

 

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