Web accessibility is a challenge colleges and universities face as digital technologies become increasingly important in higher education.

It is essential to ensure that higher education is accessible to all, including those with disabilities. They must be provided access to online resources, participate in courses, and engage in educational activities.

But what does web accessibility mean?

It refers to the inclusive practice of designing and developing websites and content to ensure equal access and usability for individuals with disabilities.

Moreover, legal and ethical considerations and compliance with accessibility standards, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), are required to prevent discrimination and promote equal opportunities.

So, to provide equitable learning opportunities for all, you must know how to improve web accessibility in higher education.

In this blog post, we will learn:

  • Understanding Web Accessibility
  • Assessing Current Accessibility Status
  • Accessibility Requirements for Websites
  • Strategies for Improving Web Accessibility

Understanding Web Accessibility

Understanding Web Accessibility

Web accessibility involves creating websites and digital content that can be used by all individuals, including those with disabilities. It ensures that people with visual, auditory, motor, or cognitive impairments can access and interact with online information.

By following accessibility standards, websites become more inclusive, providing equal opportunities for everyone to participate in the digital space.

4 Critical Principles of Web Accessibility

Web accessibility is guided by four fundamental principles: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust (POUR).

Let’s explore each.

1. Perceivable – Content Presentation

Ensures content is presented in different formats, allowing users with diverse abilities to perceive and comprehend information through text alternatives, captions, and adaptable multimedia.

2. Operable – Emphasize Navigation

Emphasizes navigation, making web interfaces and interactive elements accessible through keyboard controls, avoiding time constraints, and providing clear and consistent navigation paths.

3. Understandable – Focus Clarity

Focuses on clarity by organizing and presenting information to enable users to efficiently comprehend content and complete tasks without confusion.

4. Robust – Compatibility

Prioritizes compatibility, ensuring web content and applications are developed using technology reliably interpreted by various user agents, including assistive technologies, for a smooth user experience.

Common Barriers for Users with Disabilities

Here are some of the most common barriers:

  • Inaccessible content, complex navigation, and lack of alternative text
  • Inaccessible multimedia, such as videos without captions
  • Complex navigation systems may hinder users with mobility issues

Addressing these barriers involves adopting web accessibility principles, such as providing alternative text, improving navigation structures, and ensuring compatibility with assistive technologies for a more inclusive digital experience.

For example, imagine a website that relies heavily on mouse-driven interactions without providing keyboard shortcuts. 

This can be a significant barrier for users with mobility impairments who may rely on alternative input methods, such as keyboards. Implementing accessible design practices, like keyboard operability, helps remove such barriers.

Assessing Current Accessibility Status

Here’s how you can assess the current accessibility status of your higher education websites.

If you are not an expert in accessibility assessment, you can connect with a higher education marketing agency to get the job done.

1. Conducting Accessibility Audits

Organizations assess their digital presence by conducting accessibility audits, systematically reviewing websites and applications to identify compliance with standards like WCAG, and identifying areas for improvement.

2. Analyzing User Feedback

Gathering and analyzing user feedback provides valuable insights into the accessibility of digital platforms. Real-world experiences help identify specific challenges users face, enabling institutions to address issues.

3. Identifying Common Issues

Analyzing common challenges faced by users with disabilities allows institutions to prioritize enhancements and implement targeted solutions, ensuring equal access to higher education.

Accessibility Requirements for Websites

Accessibility Requirements for Websites

If your website isn’t accessible, things are difficult for many prospective students. Also, you could face fines and lawsuits. It’s essential to ensure your site follows accessibility rules to welcome all students and avoid legal troubles.

1. Compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

Ensures higher education websites follow global standards, providing accessible digital content for diverse users. Accessibility involves various disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities.

2. Levels of Conformance (A, AA, AAA)

It represents varying degrees of accessibility, with Level A, AA, and AAA often recommended for higher education to offer inclusive online experiences.

Level A: Your website is only accessible to some users

Level A is designed to be the easiest to meet with little impact on the website design or structure. For example, you cannot identify something by color alone at Level A, like “Press the green button to proceed.”

Level AA: Your website is accessible by almost all users

Level AA requires more commitment. You need to review the contrast across the higher education website and revise colors where needed, even if they are your brand colors.

Level AAA: Your website is accessible to all users

Level AAA required a more stringent requirement. If we continue to consider website colors, the requirement is taken further with an even more strict color contrast requirement for text.

3. ADA Compliance

Mandates adherence to the Americans with Disabilities Act, requiring higher education websites to ensure equitable access to information and services for individuals with disabilities.

4 Effective Strategies for Improving Web Accessibility

Strategies for Improving Web Accessibility

With the rapid growth of digital technologies and online learning, higher education institutions need strategies to improve web accessibility.

1. Providing Accessible Content

Text alternatives for multimedia, such as images and video transcripts, ensure accessibility. Screen readers rely on this alternative text to convey information, making multimedia content comprehensible for users with visual or auditory impairments.

Developing proper heading structure by organizing content with precise heading levels helps navigation for all users, especially those relying on screen readers. A well-structured hierarchy enhances comprehension and ease of interaction.

Ensure interactivity by using clear and descriptive link text and meaningful interactive elements by understanding the purpose and destination. This approach benefits those relying on screen readers or other assistive technologies, promoting a more inclusive digital experience.

2. Designing Accessible Interfaces

Maintaining consistent navigation elements across web pages ensures predictability and ease of use for all users. Consistency in menus and interactive elements facilitates navigation, benefiting those with cognitive disabilities and enhancing the overall user experience.

Color and contrast considerations enable users with visual impairments. Ensuring sufficient color contrast enhances readability, making content more discernible for individuals with low vision or color blindness and promoting inclusivity.

Designing navigable interfaces using a keyboard ensures accessibility for users with motor disabilities. Keyboard accessibility allows individuals who cannot use a mouse to navigate, interact with, and operate digital interfaces, promoting an inclusive and barrier-free user experience.

3. Implementing Assistive Technologies

Compatibility with screen readers is essential for web accessibility. Websites and applications should provide alternative text, proper document structure, and navigational features that screen readers can interpret, enabling individuals with visual impairments to access and understand digital content through audio output.

Voice recognition software and other higher education marketing stacks allow users to control computers or devices through spoken commands. 

This technology benefits individuals with mobility impairments, enabling hands-free interaction with digital interfaces and promoting greater accessibility for those with difficulty using traditional input methods.

4. Training and Awareness Programs

Educating web developers and content creators helps higher education institutions to understand and implement web accessibility standards. This includes teaching them how to design, develop, and maintain digital content compliant with guidelines.

Raising awareness among key stakeholders in higher education, including decision-makers, executives, and employees, emphasizing the importance of web accessibility. 

By educating stakeholders about the benefits of inclusive design and legal requirements, these programs contribute to a collective commitment to prioritizing accessibility in all digital development and content creation aspects.

Final Words

Creating web accessibility is essential to ensuring that your institution is committed to providing an inclusive and accessible online experience. Making your website and information as accessible as possible will reduce student frustration

Establishing clear accessibility policies, creating awareness, and involving stakeholders collectively contribute to a more inclusive digital environment. 

Embracing technologies compatible with assistive tools, adhering to established standards, and continuously seeking user feedback ensure ongoing improvement.

Moreover, now that you know how to improve web accessibility in higher education, you can benefit students from diverse backgrounds, including those with disabilities and those who speak different languages.