Ten Things You Can Do Today to Improve Web Accessibility to Include Those with Disabilities

Concurrent Session 2

Brief Abstract

Everyone has a role in creating a digital world inclusive of all and accessible to those with disabilities. However, even when individuals make this commitment, they do not know what to do. This hands-on, BYOD, session will cover 10 things you can do today to improve accessibility of your web content.


Dr. Cyndi Rowland is the Founder and Executive Director of WebAIM and the National Center on Disability and Access to Education both housed at Utah State University. Since 1999 she has focused on research, tool and resource development, training, and policy initiatives for web accessibility in education. The work of both WebAIM and NCDAE are viewed as important resources in web accessibility. Both groups have a rich history of research and product development to benefit the broader community and an inclusive web. WebAIM is consistently in the top 8 Google returns when searching for “web accessibility”, where there are typically millions of returns. Some of WebAIM’s content includes issues and technical recommendations for developers who wish their designs to be inclusive of individuals with disabilities. NCDAE has rich resources for administrators and faculty alike who wish to make changes in their systems and individual practice. This includes a Benchmarking and Planning Tool as well as accessibility Cheatsheets used frequently by others. Dr. Rowland has engaged in her accessibility work at top tier national and international levels. Examples include sitting on the U.S. Section 508 refresh committee, and working on initiatives out of UN organizations. Examples include the ITU and UNESCO where she was an invited expert to assist in the creation of global guidelines for online distance education. Accessibility plays a role for UN Member States.

Extended Abstract

Given the powerful nature of the web today, we must assure that this ecosystem is accessible to all. This includes those with disabilities. Failure to do so marginalizes individuals and limits their opportunities and societal contributions. Data on web accessibility is poor and constitutes a national crisis. This includes education.

Kimmons and Smith (2019) [1] reported that 65.9% of pages in a 6,226 page K-12 sample failed to conform to industry accessibility standards (i.e., WCAG 2.0).  Rowland and Joeckel (2019) [2] shared a similar outcome when they reported 67.8% of pages in a 579-page sample in higher education contained automatically detectable accessibility errors (the low hanging fruit of the accessibility world). When two thirds of web content samples could block those with disabilities in education, the problem must be addressed.

Yet, as bad as this outcome, education fairs better than other sectors of society. This may be due to enhanced pressure and awareness that has occured because of increased litigation and complaints to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) on the issue.  Those in education may be making important strides because they are in such a high stakes sector.

Examples of accessibility in other sectors include the same Rowland and Joeckel (2019) research mentioned above.  They indicated that 80.5% of a 552-sample of state government web pages displayed detectable accessibility errors. More broadly, Smith (2019) reported on research of the WebAIM Million[3]. He reported that 97.8% of these million pages had detectable errors (averaging nearly 60 errors on each home page).  Sadly, this is consistent with Rowland’s (2019) report of the top 100 nonprofits[4] where 98% of pages displayed errors, and Smith’s (2019) Alexa 100[5] where 89% of pages in the Alexa Top 100 home pages contained WCAG 2.0 errors.  Clearly across all sectors, not just education, we must work to fix this problem that excludes many people with disabilities from critical aspects of society now.

One of the many issues in this complex problem is that nearly everyone can create content that ends up on the web, and few know what their responsibilities are with respect to accessibility. This does include education. While web developers need to understand accessible web design, faculty and staff have roles to play if we are to solve this problem. For example, It is common for faculty to create content with Word, or PowerPoint and then upload that content into the institutional CMS.  It is also common for staff in education to create documents (e.g., Word, PDF, InDesign) or other content that is similarly uploaded to administrative, community facing, or employee web portals. When that content is not accessible it creates barriers for those with some disabilities. Even when the institutional, or organizational, template or main sites are accessible, dispersed content creators can innocently up-end the intended accessibility.

Getting everyone on board with their role in accessibility takes time. Yet once individuals have decided to create accessible content, they need to acquire new skills. In this Express Workshop, we will cover 10 things participants can take away and do the same day to improve the web accessibility of their own content.  The session will be highly interactive, and hands-on, as we ask participants to bring their own device and practice as we move through each item. Presenters will cover 10 tips that can be mastered easily. Each tip will have a practice component for participants. Moreover, online resources on each of the 10 tips, along with the slide presentation, will be available so that participants will have them at home for review and can share the techniques with others.

The session goals are organized around the 10 tips.  Thus, by the end of this workshop, participants should be able to:

1.     Know their responsibilities for web accessibility

2.     Provide captions and search for captioned videos

3.     Make links descriptive

4.     Provide good contrast

5.     Understand why you should not rely on color alone to communicate content

6.     Use headings to enhance structure

7.     Give images alternative text

8.     Give documents descriptive titles

9.     The perils, and alternatives, of printing to PDF

10.  Check documents and web pages for some aspects of web accessibility

The interactive and hands-on nature of this session should lend itself to skill acquisition.  While there are numerous tips, each is relatively easy and can be included in the short timeframe of the workshop.

Creating greater accessibility skills in OLC Accelerate attendees puts these professionals in a positive position in their organization to help make, and even lead, necessary change. The ultimate goal, of course, is that accessibility can be achieved at each institution and organization. We must all continue to work toward a future where all persons, including those with disabilities, can participate in web-based content and services.


[1] Kimmons, R., & Smith, J. (2019). Accessibility in mind? A nationwide study of K-12 Web sites in the United States. First Monday, 24(2-4).  Retrieved February 5, 2019 from https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/issue/view/617

[2] Rowland, C., Joeckel, G. (2019, March). Three years of national web accessibility data: What trends emerge? Paper presented to the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference. Anaheim, CA. Retrieved, https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1geJ3vcRex_3-REJwttZegoQQ9_f5-EacpqnZrdkRQSk/edit#slide=id.p1

[3] Smith, J. (2019). The WebAIM Million: What we learned analyzing 1,000,000 web site home pages.  Retrieved, https://webaim.org/blog/webaim-million/

[4] Rowland, C. (2019). Web Accessibility Among Nonprofits. Retrieved, https://webaim.org/blog/web-accessibility-among-nonprofits/

[5] Smith, J. (2019, March). The Alexa 100 Accessibility Update #2. Retrieved, https://webaim.org/blog/alexa-100-update-2/