Intro to Digital Accessibility at The University of Chicago


Welcome to Intro to Digital Accessibility at University of Chicago.

My name is Pat Kogos, and I have a CPACC certification (CPACC), which is Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies. I’m the director of digital accessibility at the Center for Digital Accessibility in IT Services at the University of Chicago.

What is digital accessibility?

It’s the ability of a website, mobile app, electronic document or other digital content to be easily navigated and understood by a wide range of users, including users with disabilities. You’ll often see accessibility abbreviated A 1 1 Y, pronounced ally, created by replacing the middle 11 letters of the word accessibility with the number 11.

Why is digital accessibility important?

Digital accessibility is an integral part of the University’s commitment to providing an accessible, diverse and inclusive working and learning environment.

Maintaining accessible websites enables users of all backgrounds and abilities to have a better user experience.

The University’s websites and associated content are our digital representation online and should reflect our academic excellence.

Offering digital content that’s accessible to all users strengthens the University’s compliance regarding accessibility laws.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is enhanced when text alternatives to all images and multimedia files are present and headers are in order and marked up properly.

Who is impacted if content is not accessible?

  • Users with various disabilities, including auditory disabilities like deafness and hard of hearing; cognitive impairments like attention deficit disorder and dyslexia; neurological disabilities like epilepsy and migraines; motor impairments like amputation and muscular dystrophy; speech impairments; and visual impairments, as in people who are blind, visually impaired or colorblind.
  • Other users are also impacted by digital accessibility, including people using various screen sizes, sometimes with a fixed view.
  • Older people who have changing abilities.
  • Users with temporary disabilities, like if you have a broken arm or just had eye surgery.
  • People with situational limitations like you’re out in the bright sunlight or in a loud environment.
  • Users with slow internet connections. Sometimes your images won’t load properly.
  • And anyone using assistive technology.

This slide contains an image of a sun and an image of a mobile device.

Disabilities by the numbers.

UChicago disability statistics.

In the undergraduate population, eight percent of students have registered a disability with Student Disability Services (SDS),18 percent self-identify as having a disability.

In the graduate and professional population, three percent of students have registered a disability with SDS and 13 percent self-identify as having a disability.

This is from UChicago data as of Spring 2019 and the 2016 Campus Climate Survey. So you can see that 10 percent of students in both these populations have a disability but did not register with Student Disability Services.

In the U.S., disability statistics are that one in five people have a disability.

8.1 million people have some form of visual impairment, including 2 million people who are blind or unable to see.

7.6 million people have difficulty hearing, including 1.1 million whose difficulty is severe.

And 19.9 million people have difficulty lifting or grasping objects. This is from the U.S. Census of 2010.

Digital accessibility and operational excellence go hand-in-hand.

“How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our job a little better?” This is from Steve Krug, his book, Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability.

When we include accessibility as an indicator of our operational excellence, we broaden access to the University’s wealth of digital materials.

How do people with disabilities navigate websites?

Users with disabilities often use assistive technology (AT) to interact with digital content, including websites. Examples of AT: screen reader software, pointing devices, alternative keyboards including refreshable Braille, eye gaze technology, and voice recognition software.

This slide contains an image of a refreshable Braille keyboard and an image of a head pointer.

How do screen reader users access content?

According to a recent screen reader survey, most screen reader users find information on a web page in the following ways, by order of frequency.

The most popular way is by navigating through headings. They can do a quick review of the page before deciding which section to dive into. If the headings aren’t marked semantically, this functionality won’t work, and they’ll have to read the page all the way through.

Next, they use the Find feature. If we use images of text instead of text on the page, the Find feature won’t work.

Then they read through the page.

Sometimes they like to navigate through links. If meaningful link text isn’t used, they won’t understand where the link will take them. They’ll hear a series of “click here,” “click here,” “click here.”

They navigate through landmarks and regions. So, again, if the landmarks and regions are not semantically marked up, this functionality won’t work.

This survey was done by WebAIM, which is a nonprofit based at Utah State University, who’s widely regarded as experts in digital accessibility. It was from their Screen Reader Survey #8.

What standards are used to assess web accessibility?

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, referred to as WCAG, were created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a group that develops international standards for the web. WCAG includes three levels of conformance.

Level A is the most basic and has the highest user impact.

Level AA is the industry and UChicago standard, and it includes Level A.

Level AAA, which is the most stringent and often difficult to achieve.

The current version is WCAG 2.1, adopted in June 2018. WCAG 1.0, the very first version, was adopted in May 1999. WCAG has been in existence for over two decades.

Legal guidelines.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has continually reaffirmed that the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 applies to websites as “places of public accommodation.”

The WCAG standards are consistently upheld as the prevailing standard by the DOJ and the court system.

This is from the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, “Is there a legal requirement to implement WCAG?”

This slide contains the scales of justice icon.

Evaluating web accessibility.

Free automated tools are available to help evaluate a website’s accessibility. These tools can identify less than 50 percent of the errors, but they’re a great start.

Manual testing must be performed to find the rest of the issues. Manual checks include keyboard testing without the use of a mouse. All content must be accessible, using only the keyboard, because some people can’t use a mouse.

The keys most commonly used are Tab to move forward, Shift Tab to move backward, arrow keys, the space bar, and Enter.

You should also do screen reader testing.

The most popular screen readers for Windows are Jaws, but there is a cost associated with that, and NVDA, which is free.

For Apple products, VoiceOver is included with iOS and MacOS. And most modern operating systems include some form of a free screen reader.

There are a number of techniques that content owners and designers can use to create accessible content.

Some of the basic principles are: Use appropriate alternative text, called alt text, for images and controls. This enables users who are blind or have low vision to understand the content.

Headings should be marked up properly and in hierarchical order: H1 followed by H2, followed by H3, not just bigger and bolder fonts. This enables screen reader users to navigate through headers.

Captions, transcripts and audio descriptions for media files are critical. They should be human corrected if machine generated.

Provide sufficient color contrast between text and interactive elements against the background. Also between linked text against surrounding text. This enables people with low vision and colorblindness to understand the content.

Color alone should not convey meaning, so don’t use red alone to indicate an error. Also, colors in graphs and charts should have other distinguishing features like patterns or text.

Use meaningful link text and describe where the link will take the user instead of using “click here,” “learn more” or the URL as link text. Link text is read to screen reader users as they navigate through a page.

There are also techniques that web developers can use to create accessible sites. Some of the basic principles for web developers:

All content is keyboard accessible without using a mouse.

A skip link is located at the top of the page so keyboard users can skip navigation and go straight to the content. Otherwise, a keyword user has to tab through your entire navigation every time a page loads before they reach the content.

A visible focus indicator is present to show where a user is when using a keyboard to navigate a web page. This usually takes the form of a colored box. Without a focus indicator, a keyboard user has no way of knowing where they are on the page.

Provide simple, predictable navigation. This is particularly helpful for users with cognitive disabilities.

Names and labels must be programmatically associated with their form elements and links. This helps screen reader users understand the form fields and links.

If the name of a form field isn’t programmatically associated with the field, it won’t be read to the screen reader user when they land on it.

All content is visible when increased to 200 percent. This is very helpful for users who have low vision.

Use of proper semantic code should always be used, including start and end tags, unique IDs, and non-duplicated attributes.

Digital accessibility should be built into all of our processes. Digital accessibility is a process.

It’s not a project. It’s not a one-and-done. We will continue to work on digital accessibility over time.

We’re responsible for the accessibility of all systems we offer.

So we should consider accessibility during procurement of third-party systems, during the software development life cycle, instructional design, project life cycle, and webinar and remote meeting planning.

Building it into our processes is a much more efficient and effective way than trying to remediate accessibility issues after the fact.

So how should you get started with digital accessibility?

First, learn more. You can go to the CDA website where we have a lot of great resources.

Don’t be intimidated or worried that the task is too daunting because a site is rarely 100 percent compliant. Sites are constantly changing, adding new content, changing designs. So we’ll be working on accessibility over time.

We really want to just make sure that we remove barriers and continue to make our sites more accessible.

Start remediating easy wins. Missing alt text for images and interactive elements like buttons is an easy start.

Add missing captions and audio descriptions.

Fix any headers that aren’t marked up properly.

Fix any color contrast issues you may have.

And add missing focus indicators.

Then you should prioritize. There are some issues that are high user impact, like if keyboard accessibility is not built into the website, and that would be a super high-impact item. So anything that creates those barriers, prioritize those first and then any new content or new web designs that you’re spinning up or new websites. Make sure that those are born accessible.

University of Chicago resources.

The Center for Digital Accessibility (CDA) opened in January of 2020.

The CDA is a resource for the University of Chicago community, and we provide the following services.

Consulting, regarding digital accessibility guidelines and implementation of standards.

Evaluation tools and support for assessing digital content.

And we provide custom training and links to training resources.

The staff at the CDA consists of a director, that’s myself, and three digital accessibility specialists. We have a great team put together and would love to help you work on your digital accessibility.

Learn more about digital accessibility at University of Chicago by visiting the Center for Digital Accessibility website,

Or contact the CDA via email at or via the Contact Us form on the CDA website.

If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Thank you.


Slide 10
WebAIM Screen Reader Survey #8
Slide 11
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
Slide 12
Bureau of Internet Accessibility, “Is There a Legal Requirement to Implement WCAG?“
Slide 20
CDA website
Email the CDA
Contact Us form