What is Web Accessibility?

Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web. More specifically, Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web. Web accessibility also benefits others, including older people with changing abilities due to aging. Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities. Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)

Why websites must be accessible


DAE Keynote: Delivering Universal Access to Cloud-Based Information

The keynote speaker for the 4th Annual Digital Accessibility Expo (DAE), April 20, is T.V. Raman, Computer Scientist for Google, speaking on “Delivering Universal Access to Cloud-Based Information.” Raman will discuss the Web as a universal platform for delivering content and applications where users access (view) this  information via a variety of “lenses”  ranging from desktop browsers to hand-held devices. As we move away from a one-size-fits-all world of desktop computing, this talk will examine the opportunities for universal access that this next generation of computing is beginning to enable.

Raman has more than 17 years of leadership experience in advanced technology development. He has authored three books and received over 50 patents; his work on auditory interfaces has been profiled in mainstream publications including the New York Times and Scientific American.

Registration and view the DAE schedule online. The Digital Accessibility Expo is sponsored by the UIC Office of the Chancellor, the UIC Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Persons with Disabilities, the Great Lakes ADA Center,  the UIC Office for Access and Equity and the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE).  Sponsors include the AccessText Network, the Microcomputer Science Centre Inc., MSF&W and “SAM” – The Student Accommodation Manager from AMAC.

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2011 Accessibility Summit Recordings Available

On September 27, 2011, UIC participated in the 2nd Annual Accessibility Summit presented by the Environments for Humans.  Environments for Humans brought together some of the Web’s most notable experts in Accessibility for a one-day online conference on making online content accessible.

For those unable to participate, recordings are now available of topics including mobile device accessibility, HTML5 accessibility, captioning strategies and more. To get to the audio recordings scroll down the page (under “Watch the Recordings, too”) and click on one of the following links:

  • Morning sessions: Berman, Smith, Foliot & Kiss
  • Afternoon sessions: Sims, Swan, May & Featherstone

Adobe Connect will come up, login with pricek@uic.edu as the username and wagc as the password.

Send feedback about the presentations to help us prioritize this event for 2012.

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Setting the Standards for PDF Accessibility

The PDF (Portable Document Format) was developed in 1993 by Adobe Systems so that files could be exchanged between users without losing the formatting added by the developer of the document.  Many people (including those on the UIC campus) use the PDF format for exchanging forms and other formatted documents. The PDF file format was a proprietary format by Adobe until it became an open standard and published by the International Organization for Standardization in 2008.  Even though Adobe Systems is still strongly associated with the file format due to the fact it is still distributing free PDF reading software (Adobe Reader X is the most current version), the file format is an open standard used now by many companies including Microsoft.

PDF file format also has had a history of being inaccessible to people with disabilities. Due to its graphical nature, the PDF file format could not be read by assistive technology including screen readers when it was first developed in 1993.  With the release of Adobe Reader 5.0 in 2001, the file format began becoming more accessible with the ability to have the underlying text read with assistive technology through a tagging structure.

Even though the PDF file format started becoming more accessible in 2001, standards for its accessibility have been missing until recently.  Without a specific set of standards for accessibility, many assistive technology users were still finding the file format not user friendly.  The International Organization for Standardization has a working group that is creating accessibility standards for the PDF file format that are similar to the standards for HTML accessibility including the new WCAG 2.0 accessibility standards. The PDF Universal Accessibility (PDF/UA) Committee is actively working on these standards so individual developers, PDF generators, and PDF viewing agents can use these standards to ensure PDF files are accessible for people with disabilities.  Of course, these PDF/UA standards are similar to HTML accessibility standards and implementing the standards are left to the discretion of the PDF developer and the PDF creation tool.

The standards are not for lay developers of PDF files because they are very technical and can be difficult for some to understand.  But the important thing to note is that when you are developing PDF files using tools,  make sure the PDF tools you buy and use  support PDF/UA.  You will no longer have to shut out the needs of people with disabilities in the development of your PDF file if you use PDF/UA accessibility standards.

More information on PDF/UA and its development

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ADA Web Accessibility? Not yet but soon!

Back on July 26, 1990, the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. It was comprehensive legislation that created civil rights legal protections for people with disabilities prohibiting all discrimination. Many people have come to me asking me to make their website ADA accessible. While the ADA has specific guidelines for compliance when it comes to physical access, there is no such thing as ADA accessibility regarding websites. The ADA is quiet in regards to electronic access because of its timing. In 1990, the Internet barely existed and it was mainly confined to text based email for research purposes. The ADA has no guidelines for Web accessibility because electronic accessibility was not even on the radar.

Of course, everything has now changed. The Internet is everywhere and there are now specific guidelines for Web accessibility including the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0 and 2.0,  the Federal Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Web Accessibility guidelines and the Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act  (IITAA) Web Accessibility guidelines. UIC is covered by law under the IITAA Web accessibility guidelines.

Still, the ADA is quiet concerning Web accessibility, thus, no one can claim their site is ADA accessible. This is destined to change in the near future. This Educause article outlines the momentum that is occurring: ADA Web Accessibility Regs Likely Just A Matter of Time.

There is no going back; Web accessibility is not only important now but in the future. Adding Web accessibility into your development process using the guidelines that do exist from WCAG, Section 508 and IITAA will never be a wasted effort.

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Universal Design for Education Webinar series

The Great Lakes ADA Center and the Illinois Board of Higher Education are pleased to announce a free webinar series titled “Implementing Universal Design for Education in Illinois.” (Archive of completed sessions). This series was developed following a survey conducted by the Illinois Web Accessibility Consortium in early 2011 which collected information regarding the technologies being employed around Illinois to create and deliver instructional materials, how individuals at educational institutions learn about these technologies and their interest in learning more about accessible techniques and universal design.

Universal Design for Education (UDE) is the incorporation of principles from both universal design for learning (UDL) and universal design for instruction. Universal design for learning employs learning guidelines for multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement for the student.

These webinars will focus on key concepts, strategies and instructional technology that may be used to develop course materials that are universally designed. Universally designed course materials often provide benefits on multiple levels, including accessibility, content retention, varied learning styles, as well as platform and device independent delivery.

All eight scheduled sessions are 60 minutes in length and will be held from 2:00-3:00pm Central Time on the third Thursday of each month.

Register for one or all of the sessions

The program will be delivered via the ElluminateLive! Webinar platform and will be real-time captioned. The sessions will be recorded and archived for future viewing.

10/20/2011
Introduction to Universal Design for Education
Chris Dobson, Harper College

11/17/2011
Introduction to the Illinois Information Accessibility Act (IITAA)
Kevin Price, UIC

12/15/2011
Utilizing LecShare for Delivering Instructional Content
Chris Dobson, Harper College

01/19/2012
Microsoft Office 2010 Accessibility
Christy Blew, UIUC

02/16/2012
Implementing Accessible Math on the Web
Giovanni Duarte, DeVry

03/15/2012
Quick Checks for PDF Accessibility
Christy Blew, UIUC

04/19/2012
Engaging E-learning with SoftChalk LessonBuilder
Chris Dobson, Harper College

05/17/ 2012
Creating Accessible Presentations with Adobe Captivate
Giovanni Duarte, DeVry

This free Webinar series is sponsored by the Great Lakes ADA Center and the Illinois Board of Higher Education. Register for one or all of the sessions.

Learn more about the Illinois Web Accessibility Consortium.

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NFB and Penn State Accessibility Complaint Resolved

The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) and the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) reached an agreement on a complaint filed November 12, 2010 with the United States Department of Education, Office of Education, Office for Civil Rights. In the resolution, Penn State “agreed to continue implementing a strategy to make all electronic and information technology systems used on its campuses fully accessible to blind students, faculty, and staff.”

There are several important lessons in the agreement for UIC and other colleges and universities across the country:

  1. The complaint was made to set a precedence and could be made again at other colleges and universities: “The National Federation of the Blind hopes and believes that the steps that Penn State is taking will set an example for colleges and universities throughout the nation.”
  2. The resolution was comprehensive and impacts all campuses of the university.
    • Presentations and workshops will be given to senior academic leadership, department heads and IT staff.
    • Faculty and staff will be included in the IT accessibility trainings.
    • It encompasses more than just Web accessibility, including IT accessibility in classrooms, campus banking, use of “clickers” (personal response systems), library services, etc.
  3. The agreement sets deadlines and consequences, tangible goals in order to measure success, and a grievance procedure. All of these are critical to understanding what to work toward and how to know when the University has achieved the accessibility goals.
  4. Some standard must be set. For UIC, we have chosen the Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act accessibility guidelines. Penn State is using WCAG 2.0 Level AA.
  5. Accessibility materials and training need to be developed. One of the requirements of the Penn State resolution is for them to make “a rich set of web resources” and “provide both tools and training to the webmasters.” At UIC, we have accessibility instructions and resources on this site, and trainings through ACCC.
  6. Just like the IITAA guidelines for procuring accessible Information Technology, Penn State is including accessibility in their procedures. Accessibility concerns need to be addressed in all new purchases of Information Technology.  A university cannot wait until a contract is signed to address accessibility.  Accessibility must be checked before a major purchase of IT.

This agreement will be closely scrutinized to see how Penn State responds. The agreement should be a model for improving IT accessibility at all colleges and universities.

National Federation of the Blind

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Google Improving Accessibility of Apps

Google recently introduced new accessibility features for many of its Google Apps. The good news is that there are definite improvements in the accessibility features of Gmail and Google Documents, Spreadsheets, Calendar, Sites and Doclist. However, they have more work to do for full accessibility.

Google’s focus has been on improving accessibility for people who are blind and using tools such as JAWS screen reader, Macintosh VoiceOver, and GoogleVox — Google’s own screen reader, which also has a plugin extension for the Chrome Browser for both Mac and PC. The approach has been focused on usability for people who are blind using those technologies, and adding captioning for people who are Deaf to videos posted through Google.

However, they are not focusing on other assistive technologies or using established accessibility standards (W3C, Section 508, IITAA). People who use Zoomtext, Window-Eyes and other assistive technologies may still have problems with the apps. Established accessibility standards focus on people with a variety of disabilities. By not implementing those standards, Google is, in effect, ignoring those with other disabilities who access the tools via many other technologies.

On a positive note, they mentioned building keyboard accessibility into the apps. This would help those people with mobility impairments who cannot use a mouse or other pointing device. They haven’t yet figured out how to avoid CAPTCHAs that are inaccessible, but are investigating solutions.

My first impression of the captioning capability is that it seems quite helpful in adding closed captioning to video. If you start with a transcript for the video, Google uses speech recognition to connect the correct words in the caption to the audio. This will make it quicker and easier than manually adding the time coding.

My remaining concern, of course, is that while Google is working towards accessibility, they are not working with established accessibility standards, which may leave some users unable to access these tools.

More information:

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Think Accessibility Early in Your Design

Web Accessibility should begin at the earliest stages of a site development process, not just when it comes time to build the site. WebAIM has developed an infographic to highlight important accessible design principles to guide web designers as they create the site’s visual look.

WebAim Infographic for Designers
Text Version of Web Accessibility for Designers

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Two Students Sue FSU Over Access for Blind

Tallahassee Democrat July 7, 2011 – Two Florida State University students have filed a suit in federal court in Tallahassee claiming FSU has violated anti-discrimination laws that require public institutions to offer equal opportunities to people with disabilities.

Jamie Principato and Christopher Toth, both described as blind in the lawsuit, said that FSU’s mathematics department relies on a learning system called eGrade that is not accessible to people with disabilities.

“The software used for all homework assignments, quizzes and practice assignments in the math department is completely inaccessible for the blind and it can be made accessible for a relatively low cost. It’s a simple fix,” said Principato, a psychology major who’s going into her third year at FSU. continue reading

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Cal State Panel Questions Accessibility of Google Apps

Inside Higher Ed June 23, 2011 – California State University on Wednesday released the results of a months-long evaluation of the accessibility, for students with disabilities, of Google Apps for Education, a popular suite of software tools used by approximately half of nonprofit colleges. “The applications tested had varying levels of accessibility; most had significant accessibility problems which inhibit users of assistive technology from successful, regular use of the products,” wrote the task force members, who since last fall had been testing various features — Google Mail Chat, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Sites — that Google provides to colleges with its Google Apps suite. continue reading

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