Blind woman sitting on steps talking on a cell phone with her cane next to her

What Is Digital Accessibility?

Digital Accessibility is the inclusive practice of designing and creating websites and other electronic information to be usable by as wide an audience as possible, including those with disabilities. Digital accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect digital access, including auditory, cognitive, physical, neurological and visual disabilities.

Why is Digital Accessibility Important?

As more and more activities are conducted online, it is crucial that we leave no one out. This includes people with disabilities. Up to 1 in 4 of the US adult population has some form of a disability. The likelihood of developing a disability increases as we age.

Digital Accessibility is an important part of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). It’s essential to include disabled customers, applicants, students, faculty and staff, and consciously work to attract and retain them. That includes ensuring that websites, digital materials or apps on your site meet accessibility standards.

Digital accessibility is also a legal requirement. Organizations that receive federal funds are barred from discriminating against people with disabilities.

Accessibility also benefits those without disabilities through useful features such as captions, better color contrast and readability and consistent structure. Search engine optimization improves when sites are more accessible. The reach of your website increases with an accessible site.

How Do I Know if My Digital Content is Accessible?

JHU uses the prevailing accessibility standard for its digital content, currently the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, Level AA.  This standard covers not only websites and web applications (developed at JHU or purchased products), but also documents, course materials, slide decks, multimedia (videos, audio files) and social media. To check your materials for accessibility, you can:

  1. Use automated accessibility checking tools such as the accessibility checkers in Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat for documents or website accessibility checking tools such as WAVE or Siteimprove (JHU has a license).  Since automated web accessibility checking tools only detect about 30-40% of accessibility barriers, manual checks are also important.
  2. Navigate your website without a mouse and check that the site is fully usable with a keyboard. 
  3. Test your website with a screen reader such as NVDA, JAWS for Windows or VoiceOver for Mac.
  4. Make sure that all video is captioned and audio files have transcripts.
  5. Informational images need to have ALT (alternative) text with a short description of the image. Decorative images can be given a null ALT tag.
  6. Forms need to have labels that are associated with the entry field. 
  7. Make sure links have meaningful names so that users know what the link is for. For example, use “financial aid application” as a link name instead of “click here” 
  8. Be sure to structure your document or website with semantic tags that make it easier for people with disabilities to navigate (titles, headings, bulleted lists, tables, language).
  9. Be sure that your text and background colors have sufficient color contrast so that they are readable. 
  10. Make sure your content is clearly and simply written
  11. Layout and navigation should be as consistent as possible