Good Practice

Promote Accessibility of University Websites

Challenge

Estimates vary, but most studies find that about 20% of the US population has some kind of disability. Not all disabilities present major obstacles to using the web, but this means that perhaps 10% of users may not be able to access the content of University of Minnesota websites. 

Solutions

Everyone on campus can help make website content accessible to all people on all devices by learning more about accessibility and promoting its importance, even if you are not a website publisher or developer.

Learn Why Accessibility Is Important

It's Good Design

It's important to note that web accessibility as a practice seeks to improve access and usability for everyone, not just those with disabilities. In short, accessible design is good design. It means that all users can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with online content. 

It's the Right Thing to Do

The web is an increasingly important resource for education, employment, government, commerce, health care, recreation, and more. An accessible web can help people with disabilities more actively participate in society. 

It's the Law

In the United States, accessibility is the law. The Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require that State and local governments (including the University) give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities.

  • Section 504 bars any entity that receives federal funding from discriminating against individuals with disabilities based on their disability status.
  • Section 508 is important because it established the first web accessibility standard.

Members of the public, students, and employees may file a lawsuit in federal court under Section 508. This means that the University of Minnesota could face legal action for failing to comply with the law. Many institutions of higher education have faced litigation recently over the issue of accessibility. 

Help Our Organization Improve Content Accessibility

Support Leadership

It often takes commitment on the part of an organization's leadership to improve content accessibility. Fortunately, at the University our leaders have demonstrated such a commitment.

Act on Awareness

Most accessibility errors are simply due to ignorance rather than apathy, which is why we're sharing information and resources with you, but with awareness comes the responsibility to act.

Include in Our Procedures

If we don't back up good ideas and intentions with concrete actions, then we will likely fail to produce meaningful change. Creating accessibility policies that establish clear standards is a great first step, but to hold ourselves accountable accessibility must be "baked into" our the processes we use everyday.

Participate in Training and Practice Opportunities

Like any good habit, making content accessible does take practice. Remember that accessibility isn't a destination that we "arrive" at, it's something we must continually practice as part of our work.

Debunk Common Misperceptions About Standards

Myth #1: Standards Are Vague

There are a couple of detailed specifications that provide specific things web publishers can do to improve content accessibility:

  • Section 508 Checklist: This guide can help you understand how to apply the law in a web content setting.
  • WCAG 2.0 Checklist: This checklist is a simplified version of the full WCAG 2.0 standard for the layperson.

Myth #2: The Standards Are Difficult/Scary/Complicated

The specifications linked above can certainly seem overwhelming but accessibility really boils down to a few simple principles.

  • Perceivable: Can it be seen, heard, or touched?
  • Operable: Is it compatible with a keyboard, mouse, or other input device?
  • Understandable: Is it easy for the user to comprehend your meaning?
  • Robust: Does it work across browsers, assistive technologies, mobile devices, and legacy technologies? Does it follow current standards or best practices?

Myth #3: The Standards Are Unattainable

When it comes to accessibility , no one is perfect—and no one expects it. A 'AAA' rating isn't necessary and all it really takes to succeed is a good-faith effort. If you think accessibility requires sacrificing good design, think again—this before/after example should dispel any notions that an accessibility requires radical redesign.

Myth #4: We're Done!

Accessibility must be baked into our processes—like running a spell-check before sending an email or testing your code before it is released. There are many great tools on the web, like those featured on Design Website Content for All People, All Devices.