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Introduction to accessibility

The University of Cambridge is committed to making accessible for all users information and resources that are available via the web. We favour the principles of usability and universal design to ensure that all materials accessed via the web are usable and effective for everyone. By following these principles and incorporating techniques to ensure information and resources are accessible with assistive technologies, separate resources for disabled users should not be required.

Background

The Equality Act 2010 requires that public bodies promote equality of opportunity for disabled people (see http://www.cam.ac.uk/about-this-site/accessibility for further clarification).

In the 1990's the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) formed a Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) to give guidelines and supporting information about how to accomplish accessibility as a whole (considering browsers and authoring tools as well as web content), the guidelines about content was published in 1999 as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0 (see http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10/). These guidelines are extensive and suggested a number of measurable parameters, which gave rise to a number of tools that could be used to test a web page and give an accessibility 'result' and therefore a mark of success. While a good many of the parameters measured could be useful for those with disabilities (such as whether there was an alt text attribute for an image), many features that could not be tested for (such as colours used together and their contrast) were left out of the 'result', making it only a partial measure of success. Without a full understanding of what elements of a page needed to be assessed and why, the guidelines couldn't be fully useful. So almost immediately the WAI starting working on a new set of guidelines that would give a better representation of whether web content was accessible - the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 (see http://www.w3.org/TR/2008/REC-WCAG20-20081211/) were published at the end of 2008. The following appears at the start of these guidelines:

'Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 covers a wide range of recommendations for making Web content more accessible. Following these guidelines will make content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and combinations of these. Following these guidelines will also often make your Web content more usable to users in general.'

These laudable aims must be set in the context of the legislation that states we must 'take reasonable measure' to make the information available to our users, not that you must make available the information in every way for every possible user group (which would be a near impossible task). We don't have to avoid video or colour on pages because some people can't get the full benefit - we just need to be aware of potential difficulties and work around them.

What are these guidelines for and who needs to read them?

The University Accessibility policy (http://www.cam.ac.uk/about-this-site/accessibility/university-of-cambridge-web-accessibility-policy) states that:

  • All new web pages should be written to at least conformance level 2 standard (AA) of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, available at http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/.
  • All existing pages should meet at least conformance level 1 standard (A) of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0 (http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10/).
  • Most pages should meet conformance level 1 standard (A) of the newer guidelines by 1 June 2011. A development plan should be in hand to make all pages conformant to at least A level within as short a time as possible.

These guidelines have been written to help you through the process of producing web pages that conform to these standards.

You need to read these guidelines if you are creating a website for a University department or institution or if you are taking over or adding information to an existing website.

  • Those who are creating a website need to design the templates and/or the content management system so they produce pages with accessible content.
  • Those who are editing or adding content to templates need to do so in a way that doesn't pose accessibility problems for users.

How to improve accessibility

A few actions can help a lot. These guidelines and checklist summarise how best to concentrate your efforts to achieve accessible web content. To be most time-effective this ought to be part of a workflow that includes the following:

  • For producing and checking xhtml/html create a work environment with a set of appropriate tools (further details in 'Evaluating your pages')-
  • an up-to-date html editor to help ensure you are creating valid code
  • a set of web browsers that reflect what your expected audience are using (the most recent two versions of MS Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari)
  • a set of tools to check and test your code
  • For ensuring consistency between pages, you should use a set of templates that incorporate appropriate accessibility measures and have been code tested. The University department templates are there for use if you represent a department or institution, or a part of. If you can't or don't want to use them, designing a set of templates should be the first step to producing content.
  • If you are producing or providing content that is not xhtml/html, such as slide presentations (PowerPoint, etc), pdfs, audio or video, or Flash, ensure you are working with up-to-date applications (since built-in accessibility aids have been added to many in recent releases) and have explored the ways of making these types of content inclusive. Create or utilise accessible templates. If you are using Javascript, write accessible Javascript that is usable by assistive technology software or make sure your pages are usable without the Javascript.

Offer help

Bearing in mind that we must we must 'take reasonable measure', ensure that on your website it is clear that users who are unable to access information can ask for that information in another form, and that you will do your best to make this happen.

Last updated: 02/05/2012