What is web accessibility?

What does an “accessible website” mean?
Universal access to communication and information services is seen by many as an essential human right. Those who work with new media technologies must strive to create products that meet the needs of an increasingly diverse environment. Physical, technical, economic, and social factors must all be considered. Universally accessible sites, for example:

  • Provide alternate descriptions for nontext elements (pictures and graphics)
  • Provide headers for columns and rows in tables that contain data
  • Use identifying language for links
  • Have high contrast between background and text
  • Comply with Section 508 Standards

Click here for WebAIM.org articles to help you create an accessible website.

Why is accessibility necessary?
Accessibility allows your information to be available to all users.

  • Can a user who is blind or visually impaired understand the content of your graphics, charts and tables?
  • Can a user who is deaf or hearing-impaired understand the audio on your website?
  • Is your website too cluttered with graphics, links, or flashing text for someone with a learning disability?
  • Can a user without state-of-the-art hardware access information from your site?

What does the University of Maine require?

  • The University requires that all websites be accessible.

Who benefits from accessible web design?
Accessible web design addresses the needs of more than just those with disabilities or with sensory impairments. Users accessing the information via hand held devices such as smartphones and tablets also benefit from well designed sites. In fact, ALL users benefit from sites created with accessible web design. You, as the developer, benefit when all users can access your site.

Some people with visual impairments use specialized software to access and operate their computers. Called screen readers, such software reads the elements on the screen, window or web browser to the user. For a screen reader to be effective, appropriate document structure ( i.e. h1, h2, paragraph, lists, etc.) must be used when creating your page. Alternative text must also be provided for graphical elements.

Audio is inaccessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing users, so text is needed. These users depend on web designers to provide captioned text that is synchronized with audio clips on the website. In addition, most users will appreciate being able to read the text of audio elements.

Users with learning disabilities sometimes have difficulty accessing websites that are cluttered or disorganized. Again, all users will benefit from well-designed sites.

Many internet users have older computers or slow Internet connections. If your audience includes schools, libraries, rural areas, international users, or the economically challenged, then your website visitors may have barriers that limit access. Such users are denied the benefit of web pages that must be viewed with the latest browsers or require the fastest internet connection speeds. New technologies such as smartphones and hand held devices also benefit from sites designed with accessibility in mind.

Do accessible sites have a special look?
No. Accessible sites may appear the same as nonaccessible sites to the sighted user.

How do I begin?

  1. At a minimum, your website should comply with Section 508 Standards. To determine if your site meets that level, you can download a number of free accessibility checkers.
  2. See w3.org/TR/WCAG10/full-checklist to view “Checklist of Checkpoints for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.” This site shows the checkpoints for each priority level.