Accessibility and the Web

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 were developed in order to provide guidance for publishing content for the web that is easier to be read and accessible to all members of the internet.  Ultimately the internet affords a freedom to communicate and interact in ways previously not available to many with physical and cognitive disabilities. This freedom is felt however by more than the disabled or disadvantaged. Consider the following scenarios:

  • A father has his two children, one in a stroller the other meandering away plus an armload of bags from the grocery store.  He wants to stop in to a local bookstore with all of this bags and children, however there is no ramp into the store.
  • You are out shopping with your friend in the mall, and you want to point something out to her in a busy store. There are several extra blinking sign advertisements, and a video commercial playing on a Television on the wall. Your friend is a bit overwhelmed and confused as to what it is that she is supposed to be looking at in the shop.
  • Before work, you went in for your eye checkup, and your doctor did a glaucoma test which has left your pupils dilated and sensitive.  You have returned to work to your computer to read an important document for a meeting but it is displayed in light gray text on a white background and you are finding it difficult to focus in order to read it.

Barriers to access may be permanent or temporary. Regardless it is important to recognize that some users may be challenged to “view” the material in the same way that it was initially developed. The WCAG 2.0 guidelines help those developing material for the web or to be received digitally to ensure that materials are Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, Robust.

Perceivable – “Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.” (W3C, 2014)

It may be possible that someone with a visual impairment may be trying to review your website or document. In this case, ensuring that images, tables and diagrams have a text alternative in order for assistive reading devices to be able to interpret those images for the user. This guideline also touches upon the ability for content to be viewable across platforms, such as computers, laptops and mobile phones.

Operable – “User interface components and navigation must be operable.” (W3C, 2014)

This guideline focuses on providing the users control over the pace and speed at which they move through the material, and ensuring that the navigation can be done through a keyboard.  Many Flash objects are not possible to read or navigate unless the user is using their mouse, and for some this is not an option.

Understandable – “Make text content readable and understandable.” (W3C, 2014)

There are many web conventions that have surfaced and evolved over the last couple decades that the Internet has been around. As such both navigation and narrative should be easy to use and decipher. This includes descriptive titles, and articulate writing. Creative and abstract titles may seem fun and interesting, however if your favourite band uses obscure titles for the sections of their website, they may be confusing and frustrating some of their fans when they call the tab for tour dates “orange” or “chesterfield”

Robust – “Maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.” (W3C, 2014)

By applying universal design principles the general format and navigation of documents and websites can be standardized.  This does not mean content must all look the same, however certain principles such as tagging headers, and using alternative text not only improves the user experience but also provides essential code for linking internally and navigating the document or website.

How does this affect us as faculty and administrators? Academic Institutions are expected to be complaint to WGAC 2.0 AA standards, I have been told in training sessions at the college that fines can be hefty.  While these are just an overview of the general guidelines, the complete Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 can be found on the W3C organization website.



W3C Organization (2014) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. Retrieved from website:


– Heather Farmer