Web Accessibility and You
Online education has become a fundamental part of the learning ecosystem, offering accessibility and flexibility to students when and where they learn. In order effectively engage and deliver equitable learning opportunities to all students it is essential that your online educational content is inclusive and accessible. The Web Accessibility Content Guidelines (WCAG) standards were designed for just this purpose, to assist people in developing and delivering online content that is accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.
Developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in 1999, the guidelines have had several major upgrades since version 1.0 in order to keep up to date with changes in technology. With the release of WCAG 2.0 in 2008, the standards introduced a series of ‘success criteria’ based around four fundamental principles, often referred to by the acronym POUR, which stand for:
- Perceivable: Content must be designed in a way that can be perceived by all students, regardless of their sensory abilities. This means providing alternatives for non-text content like images or videos, ensuring that text is easy to read, and making audio-visual presentations accessible through captions and transcripts.
- Operable: Content should be operable by a wide range of users, including those with various physical and cognitive disabilities. This entails ensuring that navigation and interactive elements are keyboard-friendly, avoiding content that might cause seizures or discomfort, and providing clear and consistent navigation pathways.
- Understandable: Content should be presented in a clear and understandable manner, enabling all students to comprehend and interact with it effectively. This involves using straightforward language and organization, offering predictable and consistent page layouts, and providing user-friendly forms and error messages.
- Robust: Content should be robust enough to work across different user agents (e.g., browsers and assistive technologies) and adapt to evolving technologies. This means using code and technologies that are well-supported and avoiding deprecated or inaccessible features.
Compliance with the standards
The standards are divided into 3 levels of compliance known as level A, AA (double A) and AAA (triple A). In order to meet the standards at each level, all success criteria at that level, and below, need to be achieved. For example to be AA compliant, means you also meet all success criteria for level A.
Level A: Minimal compliance
Level A is the minimum level of accessibility you can apply. Level A does not on its own achieve a broad level of accessibility that would assist most users but does include some basic accessibility criteria.
Level A comprises of success criteria that includes:
- Content can be navigated by keyboard only
- Text alternatives are available for non-text content
- Pre-recorded audio and videos have alternatives such as transcripts
- Content has meaning without colour or shape alone
- Context has structure and relationships such as headings hierarchy
- Audio and video can be controlled and does not play automatically
- Links are clear and provide context to their purpose
Level AA: Acceptable compliance
Level AA is the most widely adopted level as it is more detailed and provides better accessibility for more users. The Australia Human Rights Commission Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes (2014) states:
The Commission’s advice is that all web resources (including web pages and websites) should achieve a minimum of Level AA conformance in order to be consistent with the Aims and Objects of the DDA. In addition, some web resources may need to achieve conformance with at least some Level AAA success criteria, for example, health and safety information, national warnings, and online resources published by education institutions and which are intended for use by all students studying a particular course.
Level AA comprises of success criteria that includes:
- Captions are available for live video
- Audio descriptions are provided for pre-recorded videos
- The contrast ratio between text and background colours is sufficient
- Headings and labels clearly describe the topic or purpose
- Text can be resized to 200% without loss of content or function
Level AAA: Maximum compliance
Level AAA comprises of success criteria that includes:
- Sign language is available for pre-recorded video content
- Real-time transcription/captions are available
- Timing of activities is not essential
- Unusual words, phrases and abbreviations are defined
- Users can disable animations
- Reading level for content is written for a user with only 9 years of education (no tertiary of further education necessary)
Which level is applicable for my teaching?
Most educational providers have an accessibility statement listed somewhere on their website, usually on the main homepage, which outlines their compliance level with respect to these standards. It is often in the form of “XXXXXXX is designed to meet WCAG 2.1 Level AA compliance”. This helps you and users understand which standard is being addressed, in this case WCAG 2.1 and to what level, Level AA. AA is widely considered to be the applicable level for tertiary providers.
Where to start with web accessibility?
While it may seem overwhelming to consider all the success criteria and the need to understand all the technical aspects of compliance with the standards, it does not need to be. As teaching staff there will be certain aspects of compliance that are outside of your control, such as accessible authentication, the learning management tool and other platforms used by your institution. You can however have a direct impact on the things that are within your control when creating and delivering resources for your students.
ADCET has further information that can assist you in developing and delivering more accessible learning experiences for all students:
- Accessibility Basics
- Accessible Multimedia
- Creating Accessible Content
- Teaching with Technology
- Supporting Blind and Vision Impaired students online
- Learning Design and Accessibility
- Teaching and Assessment
What is the latest version of WCAG?
WCAG 2.2 is the latest version of the standards, released in October 2023. These updated standards include 9 new success criteria which take into account new technologies and functions like multi-factor authentication that are more in use since WCAG 2.1 was released in 2018. A WCAG 2.2 visual map from Intopia is a great reference for those familiar with the standards as it highlights the newest success criteria.
Additional information on understanding the WCAG standards is available from:
- What is the WCAG Standard by the Centre for Accessibility Australia
- Web Accessibility for Developers by WUHCAG