Web accessibility explained

Further information

  • Policy: Web accessibility
  • Check your work
web accessibility explain

What is web accessibility?

UWA has made a clear and unequivocal commitment to ensuring the University's web presence is available to all people. To make this commitment meaningful we apply, test and train for seasoned international standards in web publishing, so that we have confidence that what we do works for everyone. Meeting these standards ensures ‘web accessibility’.

When thinking about web accessibility it may help to consider the variables that may affect one web item being effective for a variety of people. We'll expand on some of these later, but they include:

  • People and all the varied needs we have. Some people's needs may be less frequently seen than those of 'the majority' and therefore not often top-of-mind.
  • The environment, or the many different ways people consume their digital experiences. Do you prefer video to reading? Do you have headphones for the audio component, or maybe you'd like captions with your video?
  • Technological development means some of us can use anything available, while others of us really 'need' some specifics before any effective engagement. Some would prefer Braille to video. 'User agent' is a term found in technical references for the technology that users finally interact with.

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Who is web accessibility for and why?

Web accessibility is for everyone. The high standard of accessibility to which the University holds itself means that a high-quality web experience for someone with a disability will also be a high-quality experience for everyone else.

For example, an instruction on a website to ‘Click the red button’ is less preferable than an instruction to ‘Click the button marked “Next” ’. It is not good practice to indicate a choice by colour when eight per cent of men and a little under half a per cent of women are affected by colour-blindness.

While UniAccess is in contact with 900 students hoping for assistance, the number of staff and community audience members with disability or accessibility needs is unknown. What’s more, UWA has a huge digital footprint locally, nationally and internationally, with millions of impressions made each year, and all of these people, regardless of specific needs, should have easy access to our web content.

For this reason there are several criteria or conditions to consider and test for when constructing our web content.

Cognitive issues

“I’m a student with a high ATAR score, and doing well at University. However I have recently been in an accident and have an acquired a brain injury. My prognosis is good and it’s been suggested I have a chance to fully recover due to brain plasticity training. However, at the moment things are a bit difficult when letters and words on a page run sideways and from the top down, or are a bit creative (like where clouds of words are supposed to make an interesting shape on the page). Things go much better for me if we can stick to upright and left to right words with an aligned left margin, so my eyes easily find the beginning of the next wrapped line or sentence. I’m confident that if I apply myself that I can maintain my grades and graduate with a distinction.”

We employ techniques that optimise web content for cognitive disabilities such as:

  • Autism
  • Brain injury
  • Dyslexia

Sensory disabilities

“I can hear but I also have hearing damage. Things are OK when there isn’t a lot of background noise and hubbub. I like videos like everyone else but do find I’m starting to rely on closed captions even when I have earphones.”

  • Visual acuity
  • Blindness
  • Unsighted
  • Low sight
  • Tunnel vision
  • Light sensitive
  • Colour acuity and blindness
  • Hearing loss (some hearing present)
  • Low hearing
  • Deafness
  • Non-verbal speakers (such as Auslan)
  • Affected speech
  • Accuracy
  • Feeling
  • Touch affected by physical disability
  • Touch affected by neurological disability

Physical disabilities

  • Temporary ailments such as a broken collarbone
  • Para- and quadriplegia
  • Amputees, or those born without digits, limbs, or full range of movement
  • Acquired injuries

Nervous and motor disabilities

“I’m only 25 and I have early-onset Parkinson’s Disease. I’m not happy about it. Using tablet computers and writing longhand is getting harder. Keyboards are OK at the moment because I can go back and fix mistakes if I take my time, but using a mouse is getting harder. I’m not looking forward to things getting more difficult for me and I’m keen to graduate so I can have that under my belt. Although my body is a bit shaky I haven’t lost my faculties yet. No one at uni knows.”

By ensuring high standards of web construction, we can ensure excellent accessibility for those with conditions such as:

  • Motor Neurone Disease (MND)
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Epilepsy
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease)
  • More than 600 similar individual nervous conditions

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Where does web accessibility apply?

All content provided by the University via web browsers and web applications (web apps) encompasses elements of web accessibility. What’s more, we recognise that other sources of content – such as document files, video and audio – may be provided by web browsers. As such our concept of web accessibility is to ensure that any digital information is structured and delivered in a way that it can be accessed by anyone.

Diversity of participation in our activities broadens and enriches the UWA experience for everyone, so the University is committed to reflecting and responding to the needs of a diverse society.

“Accordingly, we actively promote strategies that will maximise opportunities for participation in employment, education and research and that embrace and develop diversity and inclusion. Our commitment is evidenced in the design and delivery of our courses, the students we teach, the staff we appoint and the focus of our disciplines (UWA Disability, Access and Inclusion Plan 2016-2020).”

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Testing for web accessibility features

When providing any web experience, it is useful to imagine all the different types of possible user, and how those users may interact with your content. Are they, for instance, at the low end of familiarity with technology, or do they perhaps not have ready access to the best hardware, software or connectivity?

Web accessibility has an easily remembered acronym to help you assess whether a web experience is as available, understandable and enjoyable as it can be. POUR.

  • P for Perceive – can the audience perceive the content?
  • O for Operate – is the content operable? Does it work for the audience?
  • U for Understand – does the audience understand the content?
  • R for Robust – is the content robustly made and delivered? Will it continue to be useful as things change?

Applying the POUR criteria will greatly assist in any audit of web accessibility.

Our advice page, Checking for build quality, provides tips and links to examples to help you engage with the process of building accessible content and frameworks.

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Here we’ll look at some examples of where the needs of users intersect with how web content should be constructed, using POUR to illustrate. There is so much to say on these that we have separated them out into their own page Perceive, Operate, Understand and Robust (POUR).

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We have many options to ensure our web experiences are accessible. Acting on best practice from conception will be the most efficient and effective method, but there are other methods also worth considering.

  • Make initial live builds lean, using the minimum viable product but ensuring accessibility. Then, when the time and resources are available, fully flesh out your experience.
  • Build your content, test and iterate it for accessibility, then make live.
  • Engage with older inaccessible content – audit, prune, amend and edit it to ensure accessibility.
  • Migrate old content into newer accessible platforms and templates.
  • Use awareness and training improvements to ensure editors and developers join in accessible practices.

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Resources at U.W.A.

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