Digital Accessibility and the Web: The Basics

If websites are designed in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, they can be navigated by users who are visually, hearing, and motor challenged. This opens up an entirely new world of information for ALL USERS. Not only is this the law, it is the right thing to do.

The ADA became law in 1990. It is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including higher education. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) within the Department of Education is responsible for collecting and investigating discrimination complaints at educational institutions. Last year, the OCR received 600 complaints related to digital accessibility.

The Basic Rules to Follow to Keep the Website Accessible Are:

The OmniUpdate content management system that drives the website has a built-in accessibility checker. All pages published to the site must pass this check.

And, this free tool allows users to check webpages for accessibility errors:

Key Points

An inaccessible document is equivalent to no document at all. A user who is visually challenged relies on screen-reader or Dragon-speak software to navigate webpages, PDFs, graphics, and all elements of a website. Emails should never contain embedded graphics because they are totally unreadable with speech screen readers.

Web links embedded in graphics are not recognized by speech screen readers. “Pop-ups”, such as those that are common in Concur and MyDegree, are not accessible.

The website contains hundreds of Microsoft Word documents and PDFs. A visually challenged person cannot examine an entire Word document, or even portions of it. The mouse is unusable and graphics without ALT tags cannot be recognized or put into context. Documents containing tables with many rows and columns are difficult to decipher, and finding a specific cell can be daunting. If fillable forms are used, Word documents are the user-friendly alternative for users who are visually challenged.

Office 365 contains an accessibility checker for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. PDFs can sometimes be easily made accessible, if a file is directly converted from text to PDF, though formatting can be lost. Scanned PDFs are prohibited for accessibility. Training is available through the Staff Center for Training and Development on creating accessible PDFs.