Web Accessibility

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web


Web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and programmed so that people with disabilities can use them. 

More specifically, accessibility design ensures that people can:

  • perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web
  • contribute to the Web

Watch the video below for further explanation.

Who Needs Accessibility?

Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including:

  • visual
  • auditory
  • cognitive
  • neurological
  • physical
  • speech

Web accessibility benefits everyone:

  • people using mobile phones, smart watches, and other devices with small screens, different input modes, etc.
  • older people with changing abilities due to ageing
  • people with “temporary disabilities” such as a broken arm or lost glasses
  • people with “situational limitations” such as in bright sunlight or in an environment where they cannot listen to audio
  • people using a slow Internet connection, or limited/expensive bandwidth

U.S. Web Accessibility Laws and Guidelines

In the U.S., there are two major sets of laws and guidelines about web accessibility: Section 508 and WCAG.

Section 508 is a federal law passed by Congress as part of the 1998 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It has been expanded and updated several times. The government operates a web site — section508.gov — to provide information, tools, and support for 508 compliance.

Watch the following two videos to learn more about Section 508:

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG, are independent standards from the W3C that have been widely adopted, even by law. They began in 1999 with v1.0, and have been expanded and updated several times. The current version is v2.1.

You can read the guidelines online:

Watch this video to learn more about WCAG:

Washington State and WSU Web Accessibility Guidelines

The Washington State Government has defined its own policies for web accessibility, which are available online. Among other things, the policy adopts WCAG v2.0 and adds additional guidelines.

Washington State University (WSU) has an Electronic And Information Technology Accessibility Policy. It, too, adopts WCAG v2.0 and adds additional guidelines.

WSU offers an online Web Accessibility Training course that will provide students, faculty, and staff with a certificate if they pass the course with 70% or better. The course can take up to an hour, although most people take 30-45 minutes.

WCAG and the POUR Model

The POUR model outlines four major aspects of web accessibility:

  • Perceivable: users must be able to perceive the information being presented; it cannot be invisible to all of their senses.
  • Operable: users must be able to operate the interface; the interface must not require interaction that a user cannot perform.
  • Understandable: users must be able to understand the information presented as well as the operation of the user interface.
  • Robust: users must be able to access the content through a wide variety of user agents, including different browsers and assistive technologies; and, as technologies and user agents evolve, the content should remain accessible.

Watch this video to learn more about POUR.

Web Accessibility Recommendations

When designing for web accessibility, consider these topics in web design:

  • Color and contrast
  • Alternate text to accompany buttons, graphics, videos, and sound
  • Screen reader capable
  • Input accessibility (keyboard, etc.)
  • Zoom capable

For some examples, watch the following two videos:

Testing Web Accessibility

A simple method is to run the web site through the PowerMapper accessibility check. Then, study the quantity and types of issues reported under…

  • Errors 
  • Accessibility (sort by A, AA, and AAA)
  • Compatibility, Priority 1
  • Standards, Priority 1
  • Usability, Priority 1