Web Accessibility FAQ
Q: Is my site required to be accessible?
A: Yes. Both Federal and State law require institutions of higher learning to provide accessible web pages.
Q: Why should I make my page accessible?
A: There are many reasons why your web site should be accessible.
It is easy to do. It is very simple to re-examine a web site and include many elements that will immediately make the site more accessible. Often this does not require changing the visual appearance or design of the site.
It is the right thing to do. Making your web site work for everyone can make a huge difference to users with disabilities. Making an inaccessible web site means that a potential customer, prospective student, faculty member, etc. might not be able to get the information you are trying to share. You are posting information on your web site with the intent of sharing information, so why would you make it impossible for visitors to use it?
It won't look different. Making simple changes is often enough to make a site accessible without changing its appearance.
It's the law. Web accessibility is something to take seriously. The nationwide retailer Target, for example, was sued by the National Foundation for the Blind because their web site was found to be not accessible.
Q: What is the cost of developing accessible sites?
A: The cost associated with making web sites accessible is a concern to all departments on campus. However, the cost is generally minimal if accessibility principles are incorporated into the site from the beginning. Retrofitting, on the other hand, is far more expensive and time consuming.
Q: What is the key to making a site accessible?
A: The most important thing to understand is that people use the Web in very different ways. A site should therefore present information in a way that people can access it regardless of what kind of hardware or software they are using, and regardless of how they navigate through a site. Web designers cannot assume that everyone uses the same kinds of devices the same way.
Q: What are common accessibility mistakes?
A: While certainly not an exhaustive list, the following is representative of many common accessibility mistakes. Note that many, if not most, of these can be found and fixed by writing your web pages in XHTML and running them through an HTML validator.
- images without alternative text
- lack of alternative text for imagemap hot-spots
- audio or video without captions or transcripts
- lack of alternative information for users who can't access frames or scripts
- tables that are difficult to decipher when linearized
- sites where color is the only way to distinguish elements, or with poor color contrast
- fonts that are fixed-sized. Fonts should be relatively sized in a CSS
- form fields that are not properly labeled
- pages with long navigation menus without a "Skip-Navigation" link
Q: How many people are actually affected?
A: The percentage of people with disabilities is between 10% and 20%. Not all disabilities affect access to information technologies such as the Web, but many do. Something else to keep in mind... for people with disabilities, online access is sometimes even more critical than for the general population, who may have an easier time accessing traditional sources of information.
Q: Do I have to "dumb down" my site in order to make it accessible?
A: No. Making a web site accessible is more about including good design elements than removing them. Nearly all sophisticated and visually-attractive web technologies can be rendered in an accessible manner, if designed with accessibility in mind. Creative web designers are able to keep the web site visually pleasing and, at the same time, make it accessible for more people to access the site.
Q: Must we make web sites accessible if instead we can accommodate a person with a disability in a non-technical manner?
A: In a business environment where the creation and maintenance of accessible websites is readily achievable, the use of an "ad hoc"approach to accommodating a person with a disability does not offer equal or comparable access. There may be times in very specific instances where something cannot be made accessible and providing the accommodation will be required. However this approach should supplement, rather than take the place of, providing an accessible technology infrastructure.
Q: How do people who are blind use the Web?
A: While there are many ways for the blind to access the web, they all revolve around providing alternative methods to access information. WebAIM offers several key concepts to keep in mind while developing your site.
Q: What is a screen reader and where can I get one?
A: A screen reader is a software application that interprets what is on the computer screen and conveys the information to the user through a different context, often through sound. Several screen readers are available, both commercially and for free download, but most users on the Texas A&M campus that need to use a screen reader use the JAWS or Window Eyes.
Q: How does a screen reader read a web page, form, or a table?
A: In most cases, screen readers speak all page elements in the same order as they appear in the document's source code, left to right and top to bottom. If you are not using a screen reader, you can usually use the mouse to see the reading order. When you click and drag, the order in which text, table cells, and images are highlighted is the order in which a screen reader will read them. Another good option is to use a text-only browser, such as lynx to preview your pages.
Q: What about color blindness?
A: Color blindness is not a true form of blindness, but rather a problem in the way color is processed. People with this vision problem have difficulty distinguishing certain colors, such as red and green or blue and yellow. About 10% of the male population has some form of color blindness, less than 1% of females. True color blindness (shades of gray only) is extremely rare. Color blindness can be compensated for through the selection of colors used. See our tutorials page for helpful downloads and specific suggestions.
Q: Are there other types of disability to consider with web accessibility?
A: Yes! There are a whole range of potential disabilities, almost all of which can be mitigated to some extent by accessible coding practices. The hearing disabled, for example, might not be able to listen to a podcast or audiocast, but if you provide transcripts and/or captioning they will still be able to follow along. Motor impairment can make the use of a computer mouse difficult or impossible, so "tabindex" and other keyboard shortcuts are encouraged as alternative navigation methods. Vision impairment might not mean complete blindness, so creating text elements that can be enlarged through keyboard or CSS might allow them to read the page.
Q: Does this mean I need to create a text-only version of my site?
A: NO! In almost all cases text-only sites are not only unnecessary but highly discouraged. Proper use of CSS and appropriate tagging of non-text elements should in most cases make the site accessible to anyone.
Q: If we don't have any employees who are disabled, do we still have to make our intranet accessible?
A: Yes. State and federal law specifically exclude this as a rationale for not making sites accessible. All workplace infrastructure, including IT, must be accessible in preparation for future employees with disabilities so that they can be productive from the moment they begin their employment.
Q: What about the documents that I post on the site? Do they need to be accessible too?
A: Yes, an accessible Web site includes the accessibility of all its contents, including documents, forms, and other digital objects (multimedia, graphics, etc.). A process for ensuring the accessibility of the content is critical to a web accessibility policy. For more information about how to create accessible content, please see our various tutorials.
Q: What laws/rules/regulations pertain to web accessibility?
A: Both state administrative code and federal law require websites to be accessible. A distinction is drawn between pages that are used for instruction and pages that are used for information. State administrative code, "TAC §206 - State Web Sites" applies to informational pages. Pages that are used for instructional purposes must be accessible under both Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title 2 of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Q: What is Section 508 and how does it apply to me?
A: Section §508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was re-authorized in 1998 and included web accessibility requirements that were later developed into a set of §508 Accessibility Guidelines. While these guidelines explicitly refer to pages used in instruction, state and university guidelines use §508 as the foundation upon which they were built, so in effect, §508 applies to all university web sites.
Q: What is TAC §206 and how does it apply to me?
A: Texas Administrative Code (TAC) §206 is an administrative law which outlines requirements for state of Texas web sites in four distinct areas: Accessibility/Usability, Privacy/Security, Required Policies, and Linking/Indexing of state web sites. The statute was published in the Texas Register on March 15, 2002 and was has been updated several times.
Q: Does Texas A&M have a university accessibility policy?
A: Yes. The accessibility policy can be viewed online at http://rules-saps.tamu.edu/PDFs/29.01.99.M4.pdf (PDF reader)
Q: Is my site considered a Key Public Entry Point (KPEP)?
A: Maybe. As defined by TAC §206, a Key Public Entry Point (KPEP) a web page that a state agency or institution of higher education has specifically designed for members of the general public to access official information (e.g., the governing or authoritative documents) from the agency or institution of higher education. A list of these pages is posted online on another part of this site.
Q: Does Texas A&M have any resources to help me?
A: Yes. As well as the Tools & Resources and Training & Education sections of this site, we offer a whole section on local accessibility resources that are available to you from other locations on campus.
Q: Where else can I go for help?
A: There are hundreds of useful articles, tutorial, and resources on the internet to help with web accessibility. You might start with some of the sites on our third party links section and branch out from there. For more specific issues, a simple Google search will also return many worthwhile resources.
Q: Are there any tools I can use to test my site?
A: Yes. The university is currently evaluating a site-license for accessible validation software. In the meantime, you can use one of many validation web sites and downloads to validate your site on your own. Just remember, even the best tool can only do about half of the work for you; there is not substitute for a knowledgeable webmaster incorporating proper accessibility concepts into the site design from the very beginning.