Accessibility basics for an inclusive website

EPPIIC Value icons

At Millersville University, one of our core values is inclusion. As stated on the EPPIIC values page of our website, “Inclusion is creating a campus community where differences are welcomed and respectfully heard and where every individual feels a sense of belonging.”

In the current technological age, we’d be remiss not to include the web in our efforts to create that sense of belonging. In this post, we’ll outline some simple things you can do to help provide a positive and inclusive experience for all individuals who visit your site.

Defining web accessibility

Accessibility is the idea that all users should have the ability to read content, find information, and perform tasks on the web. This includes, but is not limited to: people with visual or hearing impairments, people with mobility concerns, people with cognitive or neurological impairments, and people using a wide variety of devices to access content.

Hopefully you’re beginning to understand why accessibility equals inclusion.

The WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) provides measurable goals for accessibility, with scores of A, AA, and AAA given to various actions that can be taken to make your content more accessible. Ignoring these guidelines can be costly, with the risk of fines and lawsuits for inaccessible content.

Accessible images

Screenshot of the field in Cascade CMS where alternate text is enteredOne of the most basic and commonly referenced accessibility requirements in the inclusion of alternate (alt) text with images. If a user cannot view an image, alternate text can be used to describe the content of the image. Alternate text should not be too long, but provide enough information to give the user a general idea of the contents of the image.

Cascade  makes it easy to adhere to this requirement, and even warns you if you fail to include a description. Read Inserting Images into Pages in our documentation for information on how to assign alternate text to an image.

Hierarchal text content

Correctly formatting the text on your site can go a long way towards providing a positive experience for our users.

For example, instead of using bold text, or manually adjusting font sizes to make a headline stand out, use the correct heading format. This creates heading tags in the code which help screen readers distinguish between heading and paragraph text. Additionally, the predefined styles for heading and body text have been chosen with readability and accessibility in mind.

Descriptive link text

How many times have you visited a web page and simply scanned the page for the item or link you were looking for, rather than reading the entire contents of the page? Users with screen readers are no different.

Oftentimes the first thing they will do when visiting a page is ask the screen reader to display a list of all the available links on the page. Without additional context, you can see how this list might not be the most helpful:

Screen reader links list showing Read more, Learn more, Click here, Get information
Example of a links list provided by a screen reader showing link text such as “read more”, “learn more”, and “click here”.

Use descriptive link text, such as “view our events calendar” or “learn about studying abroad”. This will help all users navigate your site smoothly and prevent frustration.

Color and contrast

Example of good vs. bad color contrastAlmost 5% of the population is affected by some form of colorblindness. This and other factors such as the variance in color perception across different web-enabled devices (computers, phones, tablets, etc.) make color and contrast an import factor in web accessibility.

The colors used for text and links on the Millersville website have been chosen with this in mind, so please avoid using custom colors for your content.

Accessible documents

Accessibility is much more manageable on a web page than within a document, however we understand there are times when you may need to include documents on your site. Converting files such as Word documents and Excel files to PDFs before uploading them is highly recommended. PDFs are supported natively by more devices and browsers, which means less roadblocks when users are trying to access your content.

We’re here to help

If you’re interested in how you can make your site more accessible, please sign up for one of our workshops. We have tools available to help us analyze sites for accessibility issues and would be happy to help you identify and fix any problems on your site.

The content of this blog entry was accurate at the time of publication. You can find the most current information about accessibility options and other Cascade-related topics in our Cascade wiki documentation.

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