Web Accessibility


The internet has become the most viable source for free information and the method that many are expected to use to access resources within our society. However, if websites aren't designed accessibly, people with disabilities can often be kept from these resources. In order for webpages to be accessible, designers must follow established web accessibility guidelines, primarily, the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C’s)​ Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines often aren't taught in web design courses and therefore go overlooked, even by prominent schools and companies.

Web Accessibility Basics

There are a variety of disabilities that might impact how someone uses technology:

  • Vision: Someone who is blind may receive output via a screen reader or a refreshable braille display. Someone with low vision may screen magnification software to enlarge part of the screen. Other users might enlarge fonts on the website using standard browser features. Someone who is color blind may have a hard time reading text if there is not enough contrast with the background.
  • Learning disabilities: Some individuals with learning disabilities use software that highlights words or phrases and reads aloud information on the screen.
  • Physical disabilities: Some individuals with physical disabilities may not use a mouse. They may rely exclusively on the keyboard or use speech recognition software, eye gaze tracking systems, or other types of input devices.

While there are many different topics and focuses within the world of web accessibility, following WCAG while designing a website is widely accepted as the best way to ensure your site is accessible to all. Reactively applying these guidelines after your website is already online usually costs more money and leads to less accessible interfaces overall. WCAG offers three levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA. It uses AA as the standard that everyone should design by, with A as the most needed guidelines, and AAA as recommended, but less required, guidelines.

WCAG uses four key concepts to spell out what needs to be done in order to ensure a website is accessible:

  • Web content must be perceivable. Content must be presented to users in ways they can perceive, whether they do so visually, audibly, or by touch.
  • Web content must be operable. Interface controls must be operable to users regardless of their mode of input (e.g., mouse, keyboard, speech);
  • Web content must be understandable. Users need not spend time trying to figure out how it works.
  • Web content must be robust. Content must be designed to work across the full spectrum of technologies, including assistive technologies, even as technologies evolve.

A recommended starting point includes following these key characteristics of an accessible website:

When developing a website, following some simple steps as you design can help make your website more accessible:

  1. Validate your HTML with an HTML validator. If there are issues with the HTML, assistive technology may not be able to navigate the page properly.
  2. Test with a keyboard. Ensure that you can navigate without using the mouse. You should be able to access menus, links, form fields, buttons, and controls solely by using the keyboard.
  3. Use an accessibility checker. Follow up on any issues that are flagged. UW’s Accessible Technology Services has an annotated list of Tools and Resources, including accessibility checkers.
  4. Test with users, including individuals with disabilities.
  5. Ask for help. Find individuals on your campus or in your community who know about web accessibility and can help answer your questions.


Discussion Questions

  • What aspects of web accessibility were you already familiar to you? What’s was new to you?
  • Why is web accessibility important?
  • Beyond disability, what other differences between users should you keep in mind when designing websites or apps?

Project Ideas

  • Review a university-owned website for accessibility and share feedback and resources with the owner of the website.
  • Determine what resources your university shares about web accessibility. Share feedback with your IT department about the sort of guidance they could give others.
  • Invite people with disabilities to test your website, either (or both) during the design and after your website is online. Use their feedback to make changes.