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IT Accessibility Challenge

The University of Washington launched the IT Accessibility Challenge in 2020 as a way to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Over its first 30 years, the ADA has resulted in much-improved access to UW programs and services for students, employees, and visitors with disabilities. However, people with disabilities still face barriers at the UW and throughout society. Many of these barriers are the result of inaccessible information technologies, and many of these problems are easy to fix.

Take the Challenge!

We’ve identified 20 simple actions that you can take to get started with making your IT resources more accessible. To participate, review the descriptions of the 20 tasks below and decide which of the 20 tasks you would like to work on, either as an individual or a department. Anyone can participate—there’s no minimum number of tasks required. You can participate by working on just one task or by working on all 20!

To support UW participants, we’ve created an IT Accessibility Challenge website with a variety of features. Through the website, you can:

  • Formalize and track your commitment using our online checklist.
  • Have fun completing the tasks using our online (and fully accessible) Bingo game.
  • Express your commitment by adding your name or the name of your department to the list of participants.
  • Receive a certificate, suitable for printing and framing.

Use the following link to access the above features (UW authentication is required).

Following are descriptions of the 20 tasks, organized by category.

Tasks related to websites

Task #1: Check my website(s) with a keyboard.

If you or your organization has a website, try using it without a mouse. Use the keyboard instead. If you don’t have a website, try navigating a few of your favorite websites without a mouse, just using the keyboard. Some people with physical disabilities are unable to use a mouse; instead, they rely exclusively on their keyboard or use assistive technologies such as speech recognition, head pointers, mouth sticks, or eye-gaze tracking systems. If a website is accessible only to mouse users, these people will be excluded.

Try navigating through your website using the Tab key on your keyboard. You can also use the spacebar or enter key to follow links and trigger buttons. Sometimes the arrow keys or escape key are also useful. As you navigate your website with a keyboard, ask the following questions:

  1. Can I access all features?
  2. Can I operate all buttons, sliders, and other controls?
  3. Can I easily tell where I am on the page?

For more information, see Take the #NoMouse Challenge!

Task #2: Check color contrast in my website(s).

Some people have difficulty perceiving text if there is too little contrast between foreground and background. The W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 require that color combinations meet clearly defined contrast ratios. There are several free tools that make it easy to check color combinations for WCAG 2.x compliance.

For more information, including a list of free tools, see the Color contrast page in our IT Accessibility Checklist.

Task #3: Use an accessibility checker to check overall accessibility of my website(s).

There are a variety of free tools available for checking websites for accessibility. For more information, including an annotated list of our favorite web accessibility checkers, see our Tools & resources page.

In addition to the free tools, the UW has a license for Siteimprove, an enterprise web quality tool that checks accessibility in addition to checking for spelling errors and broken links. For more information about Siteimprove, see Siteimprove at UW.

Task #4: Be sure all images on my website(s) have meaningful alt text.

Images are inherently inaccessible to people who are unable to see them. To make images on websites accessible, they need to be succinctly described in the image’s “alt text.”

For more information, see the Images page in our IT Accessibility Checklist.

Tasks related to Canvas courses

Task #5: Review the Accessibility Report within my Canvas courses.

The Accessibility Report is a new feature that was added to all UW Canvas courses in May 2020. To access it, simply select “Accessibility Report” from the course menu within your Canvas course. This feature is only available to teachers, course designers, or Canvas admins in your program—it is not visible to students. The Accessibility Report provides an automated summary and overview of accessibility issues found within the course content, including a section of “content with the easiest issues to fix.”

For more information, see the vendor’s Course Accessibility Report documentation.

Task #6: Check and fix headings within my Canvas pages.

Headings provide a way for site visitors to quickly see how a page is organized. Proper use of headings is especially critical for people who are blind, as their screen reader technologies use the web page heading structure to help them understand how the page is organized, as well as enables them to jump quickly to particular headings within the web page. With this in mind, headings should form an outline of the page. In Canvas, when pages are added to the course using the built-in rich content editor, the title of the page is automatically used as the main heading of the page, or “Header 1.” Within the web page content, you can use the toolbar in the rich content editor to ensure that all top-level headings are identified as “Header 2.” If there are deeper levels of headings within your pages, use “Header 3” and “Header 4” as needed, again being careful to ensure the headers form an accurate outline of the page content.

For more information, see our Headings in Canvas page.

Task #7:  Check and fix other accessibility issues within my Canvas pages.

The rich content editor in Canvas includes an Accessibility Checker that checks common accessibility errors within the current page. To open the Accessibility Checker, click the Accessibility Checker icon, which is located on the far right side of the editor’s toolbar. Follow the Accessibility Checker’s prompts to identify and fix any accessibility errors found.

For more information, see our Accessibility Checker in Canvas page.

Tasks related to documents

Task #8: Review online PDFs and remove those that are no longer needed.

Making PDFs accessible can be challenging. When taking on the task of ensuring your PDFs are accessible, a good first step is to ask whether all of your PDFs are still needed. If the number of PDFs you’re offering can be limited, this will reduce the amount of work required to make them accessible, as well as reduce the risk associated with a person with a disability encountering an inaccessible document.

Task #9: Check accessibility of my PDFs.

Some PDF documents are more accessible than others. To check whether your PDFs are accessible, follow the steps described on our page  Checking PDFs for accessibility. Note that the first two steps can be performed with the free Adobe Reader; they do not require access to a licensed copy of Adobe Acrobat. The remaining steps will require a licensed version of Adobe Acrobat Pro to complete.

Task #10: Use the accessibility checker in Microsoft Office to check the accessibility of my Word, PowerPoint, or Excel files.

When authoring content using Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, or Excel, it’s important to follow a few basic steps to ensure these resources are accessible. Microsoft Office has a built-in accessibility checker, and the results it produces include feedback about the importance of each item and tips on how to repair any problems found.

For more information, see our Accessibility Checker in Microsoft Office web page.

Task #11:  Submit high-impact PDFs to UW-IT for free accessibility remediation.

Accessible Technology Services has funding to remediate a limited number of PDF documents through a service supported by UW-IT. Individuals, departments, and other units at the UW are encouraged to apply to remediate highly visible, high-impact, multiple-use, and/or strategic PDF documents.

For more information, see the UW-IT Remediation Service section of our Creating Accessible Documents page.

Tasks related to videos

Task #12: Review my videos and remove those that are no longer needed.

Making videos accessible can be challenging. When taking on the task of ensuring your videos are accessible, a good first step is to ask whether all of your videos are still needed. If the number of videos you’re offering can be limited, this will reduce the amount of work required to make them accessible, as well as reduce the risk associated with a person who depends on captions or audio descriptions encountering a video that does not have these accessibility features.

Task #13: Edit YouTube’s auto-captions.

Nearly all videos that get uploaded to YouTube are automatically captioned using Google’s machine transcription technology. This technology is continuing to improve but is not accurate enough to meet the accessibility needs of people who depend on captions. All it takes is one mistake (e.g., missing the word “not” from a sentence) to communicate the entirely wrong message. Fortunately, YouTube provides an editor that can be used to fix mistakes, add punctuation, and identify speakers.

For specific steps, see the YouTube Help article on how to edit or remove captions.

Task #14: Submit high impact videos to UW-IT for free captioning.

Accessible Technology Services has funding to caption or audio describe a limited number of videos through a service supported by UW-IT. Individuals, departments, and other units at the UW are encouraged to submit their highly visible, high-impact, multiple-use, and/or strategic videos for consideration.

For more information and to submit an application, see UW-IT Captioning Service on our Captions page.

Task #15: Review my videos and identify those that are in greatest need of audio description.

Audio description is a separate narrative audio track that describes important visual content, making it accessible to people who are unable to see the video. People who are blind can understand much of a video’s content by listening to its audio. However, if a video includes content that is only presented visually (e.g., on-screen text or key actions that are not obvious from the audio) this visual information must be described in order to be accessible to people who are unable to see it.

A first step in getting videos described is to identify which of your videos have the greatest need for this service. For example, highly visible, high-impact, multiple-use, and/or strategic videos that communicate extensively through sight rather than sound would be a high priority for audio description. After you’ve identified which of your videos are the highest priority for this service, contact Terrill Thompson at for a consult on getting your videos described.

For more information about audio description, see our Audio description page.

Other tasks

Task #16: Attend at least one IT accessibility-related event or activity during the course of the IT Accessibility Challenge.

There are a variety of trainings, meetups, activities, and events at the UW related to IT accessibility. For a current listing, see the Accessible Technology Events page.

Task #17: Become an IT Accessibility Liaison.

Liaisons are people at the UW who represent their work unit, large or small, in a tri-campus movement to promote the procurement, development, and use of IT that is accessible to everyone. IT Accessibility Liaisons participate in the following activities:

  • communicate online via a private email list and also meet as a group one morning, three times per year
  • continue to learn about how IT used on campus can be made more accessible
  • collect information from and spread the word within their units about the UW’s IT Accessibility Policy and otherwise promote the IT Accessibility Initiative

For more information, including a link to sign up, see our IT Accessibility Liaisons page.

Task #18: Tell others about the IT Accessibility Challenge 2020.

It takes a village. Nearly everyone at the UW is involved in some way in IT; either by designing, developing, or contributing content to websites; creating or uploading content to online courses; producing or uploading videos; or making IT procurement decisions. Everyone at the UW, therefore, shares the responsibility for ensuring our IT is accessible. Please help us to reach everyone at the UW!

Task #19: Promote the IT Accessibility Challenge 2020 in Social Media using #uwa11y.

The #a11y hashtag originated on Twitter many years ago by members of the global IT accessibility community. A11y is a numeronym, shorthand for “Accessibility.” “A” and “y” are the first and last characters in “Accessibility”, and there are “11” additional characters in the middle.

New in 2020, we at the UW have introduced our own variation on that hashtag, #uwa11y. Use it freely to promote the IT Accessibility Challenge or other activities or events, as well as to share your observations, ideas, insights, or questions related to IT accessibility at the UW.

Task #20: Pledge to remain committed to accessibility after completing the IT Accessibility Challenge.

The IT Accessibility Challenge 2020 officially ends in October, which is National Disability Awareness Month. However, accessibility is an ongoing challenge. Any time we create a document or web page, produce a video, or procure an IT product, we have an opportunity to do so with accessibility in mind or to introduce a barrier for certain groups of people. To work on this task, simply continue to learn about IT accessibility, incorporate what you’ve learned into your daily practices and workflows, and remain abreast of the many accessibility-related trainings and activities offered at the UW. To stay connected, watch for updates to the Accessible Technology Events page.