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This page offers an introduction to web accessibility concepts and methodology.

What does web accessibility mean?

Web accessibility is the practice of creating web pages so that the widest number of users can interact with them, including persons with disabilities.

The scope of web accessibility on this site is primarily focused on helping students with disabilities, in particular around design considerations that help campus-based sites both accessible and more usable.

How do persons with disabilities use computers?

Computer users who are blind primarily use screen readers. A screen reader is a software program that reads the contents of the screen aloud to a user. Screen readers can usually only read text that is printed, not painted, to the screen.

Computer users with low vision may also use a text magnifier, such as ZoomText, to enlarge and view sections of a screen. They also may require interfaces that use high contrast colors.

Deaf computer users will not be able to hear any audio commands nor would they benefit from audio-dependent information, unless captioning is provided.

Persons with mobility impairments often have a limited range of motion or motion that is uncontrollable. For these reasons they may have to use a keyboard to navigate an interface (not use a mouse), or they may have to use a modified keyboard or mouse, such as keyboards with bigger keys or mice with large track balls.

Persons with learning disabilities may experience impairments in memory and in the ability to process text. They may use technologies such as text-to-speech readers to hear audio voice feedback for text.

What does the law say about web accessibility?

Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. On September 9, 1996, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a policy ruling applying the ADA to the Internet. The policy ruling states that state and local governments, non-governmental public accommodations (including private entities that offer goods and services), and commercial facilities must provide "effective communication" whenever they communicate through the Internet.

Section 508

Section 508 of the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that electronic and information technology that is developed or purchased by the Federal Government is accessible by people with disabilities. It does not apply to the private sector or to establishments using federal funds. Because of the magnitude of federal purchasing power, Section 508 was intended to create market-place incentive to design for accessibility since vendors who want to gain federal contracts must design for accessibility.

California Bill SB 105

It is our understanding that campus web sites would not be legally required under Section 508 to follow 508 accessibility guidelines. However, the ripple effect of Section 508 has brought about California Bill SB 105 which states:

In order to improve accessibility of existing technology, and therefore increase the successful employment of individuals with disabilities, particularly blind and visually impaired and deaf and hard-of-hearing persons, state governmental entities, in developing, procuring, maintaining, or using electronic or information technology, either indirectly or through the use of state funds by other entities, shall comply with the accessibility requirements of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. Sec. 794d), and regulations implementing that act as set forth in Part 1194 of Title 36 of the Federal Code of Regulations.

The passage of SB 105 may require universities in California to re-examine their responsibilities in regard to web accessibility. It appears Sacramento Community College (SCC) has already done so; on the SCC Web Accessibility Tutorial, SCC stated that SB 105 makes them legally responsible for making all web sites at SCC Section 508 compliant.

What is the U.C. Berkeley policy on web accessibility?

The U.C. Berkeley E-Berkeley Policy establishes policies and offers guidelines in issues particular to the use of electronic resources. It states the following in regard to accessibility:

In compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Electronic Communications Policy, University of California Guidelines Applying to Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability (Plan Details), the U. C. Berkeley Plan for Accommodating the Academic Needs of Students with Disabilities (http://dsp.berkeley.edu/BerkAcomPolicy.html), and various other University nondiscrimination policies, all essential administrative material must, to the extent feasible, be made accessible to people with disabilities. If it is not feasible to make the material disability accessible, alternative methods must be made available to complete the same tasks.

According to a campus IT policy staff member we interviewed, the above E-Berkeley policy applies to all online activities on the Berkeley campus. The campus web accessibility policy is also currently under review. Policy establishment at a university level is a complicated process that must take into consideration many factors such as legal implications (e.g. Will the policy open to University to more potential law suits?) and enforcement (e.g. Who must abide by the policies and how will they be enforced?). Future potential policies may be "commitment statements" which would introduce less legal liabilities on the University yet state the University's support for web accessibility.

What are some of the benefits of making your site accessible?

  • 1. Easier to use for students with disabilities, especially those using assistive technologies
  • 2. Legal compliance
  • 3. Create easier to maintain sites by establishing a separation of content from presentation
  • 4. Promote standards-based sites and cross-browser compatibility
  • 5. Is helpful for seniors and the aging population
  • 6. Search engines can find your site easier
  • 7. Further compatibility with mobile devices and handhelds

How do you start making a site accessible?

We recommend the following methodology to make your site accessible:

  • 1. Familiarize yourself with the Accessibility Tips in this tutorial
  • 2. Develop a template or sample page of your site.
  • 3. Test your template/page. Use an automated tester (such as WebXACT formerly known as Bobby) and test with real users if possible.