WebD2: A Promising Practice in Integrating Accessibility Topics into Curriculum

Date Updated

Course curricula can be enriched by integrating accessibility for people with disabilities as a topic for discussion and application. Students whose education includes an opportunity to learn about accessibility may be more likely to practice accessible design techniques and implement universal design in their future careers.

WebD2 is free course curriculum on web design and development that integrates accessibility into a mainstream course. This introduction to web design was created for grades 9-12, but has been used at academic levels ranging from middle school to community college. It includes eight units covering introductory design and site planning, HTML coding, cascading style sheets, JavaScript, graphic design, site design and management, and use of web authoring tools. Students end the course by designing an accessible website for their school or local community organization.

In the first unit, students learn about the importance of standards-based and accessible design, in addition to learning about other core design theory principles. These principles are then revisited throughout the course as students learn new topics. For example, when students learn HTML coding techniques, they also learn about code that is necessary for ensuring that web pages are accessible. When students learn about graphics, they also learn about the importance of ensuring high foreground and background color contrast, as well as techniques for adding alternate text to graphics on web pages for users who are unable to see the images.

The curriculum is cross-platform and vendor-neutral, which is another aspect of universal design. Teachers can use this curriculum regardless of which operating system, web browser, graphic software, and web authoring tool they have installed in their schools.

The curriculum was originally designed by a team of high school web design teachers in Bellingham, Washington, working in collaboration with staff from the National Center on Accessible Information Technology in Education (AccessIT) at the University of Washington. The curriculum has been updated and is currently maintained by the AccessComputing project with support from the National Science Foundation as part of the Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) program of the Directorate for Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering (CISE) (grant #CNS-0540615, CNS-0837508, CNS-1042260, and CNS-1539179).

In 2018, AccessComputing staff conducted a survey of teachers who were using–or had expressed recent interest in using–the curriculum. The 151 survey participants provided insights into how the curriculum was being used in their schools. One of the questions asked participants to "describe how disability, accessibility, and/or universal design topics were integrated into your web design or other computing courses." Teachers responded with a variety of creative approaches, most of which fell into the following seven categories: inviting guest speakers, creating accessible websites, evaluating websites for accessibility, tightly integrating accessibility concepts throughout the course, tapping into the perspectives of students with disabilities who are taking the course, disability simulations, and extending accessibility into other courses. For more details, see the Results of the 2018 Teacher Survey.

The curriculum is available without charge and hundreds of teachers worldwide are now using the curriculum. This holds promise for the future of the Web as more students who graduate into the workforce have a foundation of knowledge that includes awareness of accessibility issues.