Frequently Asked Questions

General Accessibility

Q: Is my site required to be accessible?

A: Yes. Federal and State laws require institutions of higher learning to provide accessible web pages and web applications.

Q: Why should I make my page accessible?

A: There are many reasons why your website should be accessible.

  1. It's the right thing to do. Making your website work for everyone can make a huge difference to users with disabilities. Making an inaccessible website means that a potential customer, prospective student, faculty member, etc. might not be able to get the information you are trying to share.
  2. It's the smart thing to do. You can increase your site traffic, usability, and even search ranking. Many accessibility techniques have positive impacts in these other areas.
  3. It's the law. Web accessibility is something to take seriously. Organizations, including large companies and educational institutions, have faced legal action for not complying with the accessibility requirements of the law; so, the consequences (financially and otherwise) of not making accessibility a priority are potentially severe for the University.

Q: What is the key to making a site accessible?

A: The most important thing to understand is that people use the web in very different ways. A site should therefore present information in a way that people can access it regardless of what kind of hardware or software they are using, and regardless of how they navigate through a site. Just as web designers cannot assume that everyone accesses our site on the same type of device, they can't assume that everyone uses the same kinds of devices the same way.

Q: What are common accessibility mistakes?

A: While certainly not an exhaustive list, the following is representative of many common accessibility mistakes. Note that many, if not most, of these can be found and fixed by writing your web pages in HTML and running them through an HTML validator.

  1. Images without alternative text
  2. Audio or video without captions or transcripts
  3. Lack of alternative information for users who can't access frames or scripts
  4. Tables that are difficult to decipher when linearized
  5. Sites where color is the only way to distinguish elements, or with poor color contrast
  6. Fonts that are fixed-sized; fonts should be relatively sized using CSS
  7. Form fields that are not properly labeled
  8. Pages without a "Skip-Navigation" link

Q: How many people are actually affected?

A: The percentage of people with disabilities in the United States is approximately 18.7%, according to a 2010 Census Data. You can read a more detailed description in Americans with Disabilities: 2010 (pdf). Not all disabilities affect access to information technologies such as the web, but many do. Something else to keep in mind... for people with disabilities, online access is sometimes even more critical than for the general population, who may have an easier time accessing traditional sources of information.

Q: Do I have to "dumb down" my site in order to make it accessible?

A: No. Making a website accessible is more about including good design elements than removing them. Nearly all sophisticated and visually-attractive web technologies can be rendered in an accessible manner, if designed with accessibility in mind. Modern web designers are able to keep the website visually pleasing and, at the same time, make it accessible for more people to access the site. Sites hosted in the content management systems we provide on campus, including Ingeniux, and Sakai, are all designed to be accessible with minimal input from site editors.

Q: Must we make websites accessible if instead we can accommodate a person with a disability in a non-technical manner?

A: In a business environment where the creation and maintenance of accessible websites is readily achievable, the use of an "ad hoc" approach to accommodating a person with a disability does not offer equal or comparable access. There may be times in very specific instances where something cannot be made accessible and providing the accommodation will be required. However this approach should supplement, rather than take the place of, providing an accessible technology infrastructure.

Specific Accessibility Issues

Q: How do people who are blind use the web?

A: While there are many ways for the blind to access the web, they all revolve around providing alternative methods to access information. WebAIM offers several key concepts to keep in mind while developing your site.

Q: What is a screen reader and where can I get one?

A: A screen reader is a software application that interprets what is on the computer screen and conveys the information to the user through a different context, often through sound. Several screen readers are available, both commercially and for free download: Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools: Screen Readers.

Q: How does a screen reader read a web page, form, or a table?

A: In most cases, screen readers speak all page elements in the same order as they appear in the document's source code, left to right and top to bottom. Screen reader users will also use a number of shortcuts (that rely on good HTML markup) to navigate through content more quickly and skip to the information they're looking for. It's a good idea to try to navigate your pages with a screen reader yourself to see what potential obstacles users could face.

Q: What about color blindness?

A: Color blindness is not a true form of blindness, but rather a problem in the way color is processed. People with this vision problem have difficulty distinguishing certain colors, such as red and green or blue and yellow. About 10% of the male population has some form of color blindness, less than 1% of females. True color blindness (shades of gray only) is extremely rare. Color blindness can be compensated for through the selection of colors used, and strong, contrasting colors. Check your contrast levels with a color contrast checker (available with many web accessibility browser extensions, like the Accessibility Evaluation Toolbar).

Q: Are there other types of disabilities to consider with web accessibility?

A: Yes. There are a whole range of potential disabilities, almost all of which can be mitigated to some extent by keeping accessibility in mind. The hearing disabled, for example, might not be able to listen to a podcast or audiocast, but if you provide transcripts and/or captioning they will still be able to follow along. Motor impairment can make the use of a computer mouse difficult or impossible, so make sure someone can navigate your site using only a keyboard. Vision impairment might not mean complete blindness, so creating text elements that can be enlarged will help your low-vision users.

Q: Does this mean I need to create a text-only version of my site?

A: No. In almost all cases text-only sites are not only unnecessary but highly discouraged. Proper use of CSS and appropriate tagging of non-text elements should in most cases make the site accessible to anyone.

Q: If we don't have any employees who are disabled, do we still have to make our internal resources (Sharepoint, Sakai, etc.) accessible?

A: Yes. State and federal law specifically exclude this as a rationale for not making sites accessible. All workplace infrastructure, including IT, must be accessible in preparation for future employees with disabilities so that they can be productive from the moment they begin their employment.

Q: What about the documents that I post on the site? Do they need to be accessible too?

A: Yes, an accessible website includes the accessibility of all its contents, including documents, forms, and other digital objects (multimedia, graphics, etc.). A process for ensuring the accessibility of the content is critical to a web accessibility policy. We currently support Microsoft Word and Adobe PDF documents on our website. For more information about how to create documents, you can explore our online tutorials or attend a document accessibility training session.

Policy & Law

Q: Which laws or regulations pertain to web accessibility?

A: There are several federal, state, and University regulations which pertain to web accessibility. See the Web Accessibility Regulations page for more information.

Q: What is Section 508 and how does it apply to me?

A: Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was re-authorized in 1998 and included web accessibility requirements that were later developed into a set of §508 Accessibility Guidelines. While these guidelines explicitly refer to pages used in instruction, state and university guidelines use §508 as the foundation upon which they were built, so in effect, §508 applies to all university websites.

Q: What is WCAG 2.0 and how does it apply to me?

A: The World Wide Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) contain guidelines and "success criteria" to test the level of accessibility of a given site. While some of the guidelines are similar to those in Section 508, they are more sophisticated and reflect a more modern approach to web accessibility. WCAG 2.0 level AA is expected to be the standard to which college and university websites are held going forward.

Q. How do I know if my site complies with Section 508 and WCAG 2.0?

A: Washington and Lee currently licenses a product called SiteImprove which runs accessibility tests on every site within our public domain. You can receive reports on the sites which you manage.

Q: Does Washington and Lee have a university accessibility policy?

A: Yes. View Washington and Lee's Web Accessibility Policy.

Training & Education

Q: Does W&L have any resources to help me?

A: Yes. Refer to the Tutorials and Best Practices section of this site. If you're new to web accessibility, WebAIM's Introduction to Web Accessibility is a great place to start. We also offer training on both web and document accessibility.

Q: Where else can I go for help?

A: There are hundreds of useful articles, tutorial, and resources on the internet to help with web accessibility. If you're looking for help with a specific issue, please contact the Web Accessibility Team. We'll be happy to assist you.

Q: Are there any tools I can use to test my site?

A: Yes. Refer to the Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools.