What is Accessibility?

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Table of Contents

What is Online Accessibility?
Further Training for Online Accessibility

What is Web Accessibility?

Web or online accessibility refers to the ability of users to access Internet content regardless of physical impairments (such as visual or motor impairments) that might keep them from being able to access it otherwise. The concept is based on the guiding principles in Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. For reference, Section 504 states that “no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under’ any program or activity that either receives Federal financial assistance or is conducted by any Executive agency or the United States Postal Service."

Educational institutions that receive federal funding have a responsibility to ensure that every student, regardless of ability, has equal access to all services, resources, and academic content—essentially, all students must have the same opportunities to succeed! Failure to comply with these laws can have drastic consequences for an institution. But, as important as compliance with the law is, the more important reason to comply is that supporting our students and being concerned for all of them is the right thing to do! Students come to KSU for a great education, and we owe it to them to make sure they have every chance to succeed.  

Making content accessible is more than making accommodations when you happen to have a student who needs them. It means that “a space [in our case, our webspace] is always, 100% of the time, welcoming to people with disabilities. Accessibility means that 'accommodations' are integrated into a space and are not particularized to an individual- but rather created for our society as a whole." (Rose et al, 2006).

Because so many of our services and so much of our instruction are delivered via the web, online accessibility is a vital task. According to the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, (an essential resource for web accessibility), “The Web is fundamentally designed to work for all people, whatever their hardware, software, language, culture, location, or physical or mental ability. When the Web meets this goal, it is accessible to people with a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive ability."

In order to define what makes web content accessible, the Web Accessibility Initiative has created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), an extensive set of standards for formatting content online which are a gold standard for online accessibility. Below, we’ll tell you how we’ve tried to simplify this for you!

For Students

Essentially, for students, online accessibility means that there are services in place to ensure they have assistance when they need it and content can be accessed in multiple formats, whether students view the Internet in the traditional ways or through use of assistive technologies, such as a screen reader or a braille-reader.   It may also mean that, based on their disability, students may require increased access to content or assessments, such as extensions on time allotted, etc.

For Instructors

For instructors, online accessibility can feel a little overwhelming. It means formatting all digital instructional content with accessibility in mind. For instance, a video is a great resource, but if it does not include closed captions (or if it does, but the captions are not accurate), then it isn’t accessible for all users, such as those with hearing impairments.  A document may have great information for your students, but if it isn’t formatted with a proper heading structure, students with visual impairments using a screen reader will be unable to navigate it as easily.

The good news is that KSU has many resources to help. One such resource, Digital Learning Innovations (DLI) is an entire department devoted to assisting faculty with online instruction—and we specialize in online accessibility support. One way we’ve tried to help is to break down the WCAG standards above into a simple formula that can help make accessibility accessible for you called the Basic Four of Online Accessibility

Another, Ally, is integrated within D2L and checks your documents for accessibility issues, providing instruction on how to fix major issues. Ally can also create multiple formats for your documents that students can download. Links to other resources are included below.

Lastly, a three-week training workshop from DLI called Acessible Teaching Essentials is available to faculty.  

For Web Content Editors

If you work in an academic or staff department at KSU and manage that department's public-facing web pages (such as this one), you have a responsibility when it comes to accessibility as well.  Because students, potential students, and those outside of the university access the KSU website for vital information, it is essential that our public-facing content is as accessible to all users as we can make it.  Furthermore, it is USG policy and the law that our public content does not discriminate against any users. 

As stated above, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines  provide the basis for our understanding of web accessibility.  However, much of what is outlined there has to do with the configuration of our website and is managed by the UITS web team which works hard to maintain that compliance.  For that reason, we recommend that web creators focus on the following areas:

  1. Ensure web page content is properly formatted to be optimized for use with assistive technology: appropriate heading structure is used, images have proper alternative text, etc.
  2. Ensure downloadable resources such as Word documents and PDFs are properly formatted and/or tagged.
  3. Ensure all media is properly formatted for accessibility.  This includes captions or audio descriptions for video and audio files and that complex interactive resources have a text alternative.

For web editors, DLI's Basic Four webpage is an ideal resource to begin to explore web accessibility.  In the Spring of 2024, DLI will also be rolling out a new asynchronous training workshop for web editors called Accessible Web Essentials.  We will provide updates as it is ready.

Further Training

  • A Guide to Disability Rights and Laws. (n.d.). Retrieved December 09, 2020, from https://www.ada.gov/cguide.htm

    Rooij, S. W., & Zirkle, K. (2016). Balancing pedagogy, student readiness and accessibility: A case study in collaborative online course development. The Internet and Higher Education, 28, 1-7.

    Rose, D. H., Harbour, W. S., Johnston, C. S., Daley, S. G., & Abarbanell, L. (2006). Universal design for learning in postsecondary education: Reflections on principles and their application. Journal of postsecondary education and disability, 19(2), 135-151.

    (WAI), W. (n.d.). Introduction to Web Accessibility. Retrieved December 09, 2020, from https://www.w3.org/WAI/fundamentals/accessibility-intro/

    (WAI), W. (n.d.). Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Overview. Retrieved December 09, 2020, from https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/

    What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? (2020, December 07). Retrieved December 09, 2020, from https://adata.org/learn-about-ada