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Web Accessibility - What is it?

It is important to think about your audience as you construct your web pages or other digital content. A variety of users will navigate to your web section or access your content so it is important to take the extra effort to increase your digital information for overall accessibility and usability. According to the World Wide Web Consortium, to be accessible, web content must be:

  • Perceivable
  • Operable
  • Understandable
  • Robust

For more on these principles, please visit Accessibility Principles.

People with disabilities make up about 20% of the population. That is roughly 1 in every 5 people. Some disabilities include blindness, low vision, color blindness, auditory disabilities, motor disabilities, cognitive disabilities, and seizure disorders. Some members of your audience may rely on assistive technologies in order to access your website.

Disabilities and Assistive Technologies:
Disability Assistive Technologies
  • Screen readers
  • Refreshable Braille devices

Low Vision

  • Screen enlargers
  • Screen readers
Color Blindness
  • Color enhancement overlays or glasses
  • Captions
  • Transcripts
Motor/Mobility Disabilities
  • Alternative keyboards/input devices
  • Eye gaze tracking
  • Voice Activation

Cognitive Disabilities

  • Screen readers
  • Screen overlays
  • Augmentative communication aids

How do Screen Readers Work?

Screen readers are a kind of speech synthesizer that reads text out loud, allowing blind people to access information independently, without having to have direct assistance from someone else. This software responds to text depending on the textual formatting. The text for the title, for example, is formatted with Heading 1 and so the screen reader understands this is the title. If your text is broken up by formatting with Heading 2 through 6, the screen reader understands the hierarchy or structure associated with this formatting and will be able to read or skip to a section accordingly.  This gives your reader the ability to navigate through your web page or digital document.

As the content manager for your web section or digital document, it is important to remember that assistive technologies do not completely compensate for a disability. Much like a wheelchair, web-based assistive technologies can enable access, but they are most effective when specific measures are taken in the building of your web environment. Similarly to how a wheelchair ramp helps a wheelchair user get into a building, using the correct HTML tags, headers, and clear link text can help someone using a screen reader in order to access your content.

Generally, the CMS Editor/Google Docs will handle HTML tags for you, and as a general user you will only need to pay attention to how accessible your content is. 

According to Deque University - the comprehensive web accessibility curriculum online - there are several benefits of designing for accessibility:

  • Accessibility Improves People's Lives
    • Accessible web sites take what was previously impossible (such as independent access by a blind person to information) and makes it possible.
  • Accessibility Improves Public Perception
    • If your website is accessible, it shows that you are committed to equal opportunity and fairness. It shows that you care.
  • Accessibility Increases Compatibility
    • By designing for accessibility, you must pay attention to how your website appears in many platforms, browsers, and devices.
  • Accessibility Improves Search Engine Optimization
    • Accessible websites are more easily recognized by search engines.
  • Accessibility Increases Your Eligibility for Funding
    • As a research institution, MSU seeks to make research as accessible as possible. Knowing how to make your research accessible, and having a track record to show that you have done so in the past, are two aspects you can indicate on grant proposals.
  • Accessibility Helps You Avoid Lawsuits
    • Creating inaccessible websites is actually against the law. Section 508 of the ADA Guidelines specifically defines the measures you must take to keep your websites accessible. To view these guidelines, visit Section 508 Compliance, ADA Guidelines.


The World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, manages the technical specifications for HTML, XML, and other web technologies. In 1996 W3C formed the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) to create technical guidelines for making web content more accessible to people with disabilities. For more information the WAI, please visit the Web Accessibility Initiative homepage.