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Designing UNT Websites for Accessibility

By Kenn Moffitt, Director of University Online Communications

Designing Web pages for accessibility is not new. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has long made recommendations of best Web practices and Web content accessibility guidelines that could allow the widest possible audience to experience Websites. Federal and state policies governing accessibility practices in Web pages are relatively newer.

Federal and State requirements

In brief, the State of Texas published guidelines in July of 2000 establishing Web guidelines that state agencies should follow to ensure that Website were accessible to the widest possible audience (including those Web users with disabilities). The federal government came out with their legislation that went into effect June 2001. Commonly referred to as Section 508 (508 refers to a statutory section in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973). Congress significantly strengthened section 508 in the workforce Investment Act of 1998. Section 508’s primary purpose is to provide access to and use of Federal executive agencies’ electronic and information technology (EIT) by individuals with disabilities.

Both the state guidelines and federal legislation are based on the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for creating accessible Websites. The WCAG divide the accessibility checkpoints into priority levels. WCAG states that an accessible Website must have all Priority 1 checkpoints are satisfied, should have all Priority 2 checkpoints are satisfied, and the Web developer should be striving to satisfy all Priority 3 checkpoints.  

What can UNT Web developers do? 

What can the UNT Web developers do to make sure that their Websites satisfy the WCAG checkpoints and pass the federal government’s section 508 requirements? The full list of requirements can be read from the links located at the bottom of this article but the most common Web accessibility checkpoints that pertain to most UNT Websites are listed below:

  • If you use images on your Website – make sure that images that are necessary to the information presented on your Website have ALT tags. An ALT tag is used to allow a text representation to be substituted for images for those Web users that have impaired sight or blindness. A text reader will read the alternative representation of the image to users using text readers. Any images that are used primarily for design or are not essential to the page, should have an ALT tag set to null (ALT=””). The text reader will ignore this image completely.  If you do not use null ALT tags, the text reader 
  • If you use tables on your Website – if tables are used for data (and not just design), there are specific tags that can be used to read the table layout using a text reader. Use the summary tag to summarize the table since the overall design and relationship of the table data cannot be experienced by the sight impaired. Use the TH tag to mark the column headings of the table columns in simple tables to associate table rows with column headings when the table is read by a text reader.
  • If you use forms on your Website – use LABELS to associate the form elements with their descriptive headings. Also, some text readers require that text boxes have a value set initially in order to work correctly. Form elements should also include a tab index (if necessary) so that a user can use the tab key to cycle through the various form elements.

Check your pages

An effective way to check your pages for the above common accessibility problems and all of the others is to use the Bobby Website. The Bobby Website will allow you to submit pages to check for either WCAG priority errors or Section 508 problems. After reporting the errors, the Bobby Website will list links to help you fix the problems.

Websites referenced in this article: