Web Accessibility Frequently Asked Questions

What is web accessibility?

Web accessibility in the CSU context is the application of design principles to make web sites, web applications, and web content usable by persons with disabilities who may be using assistive technologies to access the site.

Why is web accessibility important?

Educational institutions are using the Internet and web technologies for information dissemination, service delivery, and course delivery. Additionally, the campus website is used for marketing and branding as a tool to reach prospective students and their families. Because core services and information are delivered via the Web, it is critical that all people are able to access the information on the web, whether they have disabilities or not. Web accessibility should be viewed as a necessity and an investment. Well-designed accessible web sites help expedite the delivery of information and services, and are crucial in helping the university fulfill its educational mission in the digital age.

What is the cost of developing accessible websites?

There has been increasing focus on the cost associated with making web sites accessible. The cost is generally minimal if accessibility principles are incorporated into the development stage. Retrofitting, on the other hand, is far more expensive. Hence, it is critical that campuses find ways to integrate accessible design and conformance testing into the development process. Most of the initial costs will be on training and acquiring the appropriate tools to assist with authoring accessible sites and with conformance testing.

Over a period of time, a well-designed, accessible web site is more cost effective because it takes less time to maintain and update. It is more adaptable to emerging technologies and attracts a larger audience. As more web developers are trained to create accessible site, the costs will diminish.

What are the benefits for making our web site and information technology accessible?

Beyond compliance with legal mandates, the use of accessible design is beneficial to a wide spectrum of the population. As with many improvements intended for people with disabilities, accessible technology can benefit users whether they have a disability or not. The use of ramps, automatic doors, and elevators by the general population illustrates this principle.

In terms of information technology, accessible web pages are useful to all because they are easier to navigate, easier to use, and faster to download. Accessible hardware and software also address the needs of an aging workforce.

Accessible course design provides access to learning for students with disability, and it can also improve our ability to reach and teach a diverse student population with different learning styles and abilities. All of these factors point to the fact that ensuring access to technology for individuals with disabilities is not only the right thing to do but the smart thing to do.

What are the characteristics of an accessible web site?

An accessible web site is one that can be used by everyone, including people with disabilities. Some specific characteristics of an accessible site include: clear and logical navigation; easy to read text and understandable links; text descriptions of essential visual elements; transcripts or captions for audio, video, and multimedia content; and interoperability with assistive technology which may be used to render the web content in a usable format.

What are some accessible web design principles?

Web sites that are designed to be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust (acronym=POUR) will offer the most flexibility and usefulness for individuals with disabilities as well as many other people. For a good discussion of these principles, access WebAIM’s "Constructing a POUR Website".

Other principles include

  • Separation of content from presentation to allow for modification of presentation style without altering content
  • Transformability of content from one form to another so persons needing different formats may be able to access and use the material
  • Use of open standards to provide compatibility with a wide variety of other technologies
  • Structural markup for efficient and effective navigation

What steps should web developers follow when creating an accessible web site?

  1. Know how users with disabilities interact with the web (https://www.washington.edu/doit/Video/www.html)
  2. Understand W3C current technical standards for markup (HTML/XHTML) and stylesheet (CSS) and apply these standards in your design.
  3. Understand Section 508 Standards for Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications (1194.22) (link to document on web accessibility standards) and apply these standards in your design
  4. Build the site to be standards conformant (e.g. XHTML 1.0 strict and CSS)
  5. Choose a standards-conformant accessible authoring tools like Dreamweaver and use the standards support and accessibility features. Validate conformance with the WC3 technical standards by using tools such as the W3C’s HTML Validation Service and CSS Validation Service
  6. Validate conformance with accessibility standards by using Web Accessibility Evaluation tools such as Hi Software and run them against your web page or file. (often a good accessibility evaluation tool will include validation of the codes as well)
  7. Examine pages using Graphical Browsers Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Netscape Navigator, Opera, and Safari. The following toolbars assist with evaluation:
    • AIS Toolbar for Internet Explorer,
    • WAVE Toolbar for Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Netscape Navigator,
    • Web Developer Extension for Firefox
  8. Use a screen reading program (e.g. JAWS) or a speaking web browser (e.g. IBM Homepage Reader) with the monitor turned off to determine how your web pages are presented auditorally.
  9. Utilize a variety of users, including users with disabilities, to engage in real-world testing of your page.

If we don’t have any employees who are disabled, do we still have to make our intranet accessible?

Yes. Many disabilities are not visible and you therefore may not always know whether a person has a disability or not. California Government Code 11135 requires that the CSU makes its web sites accessible so that employees with disabilities will have comparable access to the resources and information on the intranet.

In addition, the workplace infrastructure, including its technology infrastructure, should be accessible in preparation for future employees with disabilities so that they are able to be productive from the moment they begin their employment.

Finally, many of the features of accessible web sites also benefit those using other technologies. For example, transformable, standards-based content can be readily transferred to PDAs and cell phones and displayed and utilized in a more effective manner.

Do I have to "dumb down" my site in order to make it accessible?

No. Making a web site accessible is more about including good design elements than removing them. Nearly all sophisticated and visually-attractive web technologies can be rendered in an accessible manner if designed with accessibility in mind. Creative web designers are able to keep the web site visually pleasing and, at the same time, make it accessible for more people to access the site.

Must we make web sites accessible if instead we can accommodate a person with a disability in a non-technical manner? For example, if a person cannot access web-based information, can we direct them to call the office to get the information?

In a business environment where the creation and maintenance of accessible websites is readily achievable, the use of an ‘ad hoc’ approach to accommodating a person with a disability does not offer equal or comparable access. There may be times in very specific instances where something cannot be made accessible and providing the accommodation will be required. However this approach should supplement, rather than take the place of, providing an accessible technology infrastructure. It is also good practice to include a statement on your web site that gives contact information for users who experience accessibility problems using the site.

What about the documents that people post onto the site? Do we have to be concerned about the accessibility of these documents?

Yes, an accessible Web site includes the accessibility of all its contents, including documents, forms, and other digital objects (multimedia, graphics, etc.). A process for ensuring the accessibility of the content is critical to a web accessibility policy. For more information about how to create accessible content, please access Tools & Resources.