How to meet web accessibility requirements

Policy 58 — Accessibility requires that UWaterloo web sites comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA.

Building your web site in the Waterloo Content Management System or UWaterloo Scholar is the easiest way to meet this requirement. For sites outside of these systems, read on.

Accessibility is a process, not a check

As people finish making a new web site, they often ask for an accessibility check as a final step before launch. The usual result is that many accessibility issues are identified, leading to a costly redesign and a delayed launch. To avoid this, accessibility must be part of the development process from the beginning, not a check tacked-on at the end.

Web developers and designers need to be thinking about accessibility from the beginning of the design process. During rapid iteration, it is not necessary to fix every issue right away, but think about how you will address them. As designs begin to solidify, they need to be accessible designs.

Checks anyone can do

Some accessibility checks are easy. You can start by doing these yourself.

  • HTML Validation checks that an HTML page follows the HTML specification, which is a requirement of WCAG. To test a page, use the W3C Markup Validation Service. It is required to fix any errors and recommended to fix any warnings.
  • Run the WAVE accessibility checker. You can use either WAVE web site or the WAVE browser extensions. WAVE will identify accessibility errors and warnings. The errors need to be fixed and the warnings point to areas that need further investigation; most of these need to be fixed.
  • Check that the site can be fully controlled using just the keyboard (no mouse).

If you don't understand the messages from these tools or how to fix them, ask for assistance. By starting accessibility checking early, the designers and developers will learn about accessibility techniques and apply that knowledge as they continue their work.

Existing sites

Accessibility remediation is taking an existing site and making it accessible. By its nature, accessibility remediation is a multi-step process: Assess the site for accessibility and identify a few issues. Fix these issues. Assess again, repeating the process until no further issues remain.

Remediation is done this way because fixing one issue can introduce or surface other issues. Always start with fixing HTML validation, then the errors identified by WAVE, then the warnings, and finally issues identified through manual assessment.

Are some sites exempted?

Generally speaking, all UWaterloo sites must be accessible. Password-protected sites that are restricted to only a few members of staff could be left inaccessible, but would need to be made accessible if an employee with a disability needs to use it. If a site is restricted to students registered in a particular course, then it may be left inaccessible and made accessible upon request if a student with a disability registers for the course.