What is accessibility?
“Accessibility” ensures people with disabilities can get information and perform tasks using digital resources. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 provide a technical standard for building accessible technology, and accessibility efforts often focus on bringing digital resources into compliance with standards like WCAG.
However, accessibility is most effective when considered as a quality attribute of an overall designed experience. Rather than focusing on compliance with standards, an inclusive approach to accessibility focuses on people, working to provide an accessible and enjoyable experience for all users, including people with disabilities. NYU supports an inclusive design approach to accessibility.
Who is responsible for accessibility?
Accessibility is a shared concern, to be considered by anyone in the NYU community who has a hand in providing digital resources. This includes:
- Managers: People who are responsible for specifying and managing projects must make sure accessibility requirements are integrated into product specifications, and that accessibility activities is part of project planning and resourcing.
- Content creators: People responsible for creating and publishing text, images, video, and audio must address accessibility requirements when creating and publishing content.
- Designers: People responsible for visual and interaction design must account for diverse needs and use cases when designing user interfaces.
- Developers: People responsible for programming digital resources must follow accessibility specifications when building sites and applications.
Who benefits from accessibility?
Everyone benefits when people who create digital resources pay close attention to accessibility. However, people with disabilities are the primary audience to keep in mind when attending to accessibility. For accessibility, we focus on how different impairments affect a person’s use of technology.
Some people have disabilities that make it difficult or impossible operate a computer or other device using their hands. This includes people who have lost the use of their hands due to conditions such as paralysis or amputation. It also includes people who have limited use of their hands due to tremors, pain, or fatigue.
People with motor disabilities may access a computer or other device using different input methods:
- Keyboard: A keyboard offers a controlled means of interacting with technology. Sending commands via keypress can be more precise and less strenuous to operate than a pointing device, like a mouse. Some keyboards are modified to make them easier to operate with limited dexterity.
- Switch input devices: Switch devices allow people to use physical movements, like moving their head, hand, or foot, blinking, or changing their breathing to move through and activate controls. Sending commands through a switch device allows people to operate technology with minimal effort and using physical movements other than hands and fingers.
- Speech: Voice input allows people who have motor-related impairments to interact with technology using speech that their computer or device translates into text and commands. Sending commands by voice allows people to operate technology using voice alone, without requiring other physical movements or input devices.
Some people have no functional vision and rely on other senses to perceive information. Others have functional vision but it is impaired in some way—for example, blurred or only a partial field of vision. Some people cannot perceive differences with certain colors.
People with vision impairments may access a computer or device using different software and methods:
- Screen readers: Screen reader software uses text-to-speech technology to read the content on the screen of a computer or device. The software also has features that make reading more efficient, like the ability to read only headings or controls, and keyboard commands that provide access to different functionality. Screen reader software, like JAWS and VoiceOver, works with other applications, like email, browsers, and word processors. Most screen reader users use the keyboard to control the computer. On devices like the iPhone, the screen reader software works with touchscreen gestures. People who use screen reader software do not experience the layout of a page, but rather the code and content that comprise the page.
- Screen magnification: Screen magnifiers allow people who have low vision to enlarge text, images, and other content, and they often include screen reader functionality. People who use screen magnification experience zoomed in areas of the page, and may also use the screen reader feature to read out page content.
- Display modifications: Some vision impairments can be overcome by modifying the display of content. For example, high-contrast mode can benefit people with vision impairments, inverting colors to make the background dark and the foreground text light. People who modify the display view pages differently than they were designed.
- Braille: People who are blind might use a braille display to work with computers and devices. The braille display is a physical device that translates the computer display into braille, and allows interaction with controls. People who use refreshable braille displays experience page content linearly, like screen reader users.
People who are deaf need an alternative to speaking and listening to accomplish tasks. Sometimes a person with a hearing impairment will also have a speech impairment that affects the clarity of their speech. Some people who are deaf do not speak. Hearing-related technologies are typically personal devices, such as a hearing aid or cochlear implant. People with hearing impairments use other methods of communicating, including lip reading and sign language. Communications can require an intermediary, such as text or video relay service, to translate to and from either sign language or text.
People with significant hearing disabilities will need alternatives to information provided in audio, such as transcripts and captions for video, and may not be able to use speech to interact with computers and devices.
Some people have disabilities that affect their ability to read, understand, and remember content. These conditions include attention deficit disorder and autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities such as dyslexia, conditions that affect memory, like dementia, and psychological impairments such as anxiety and bipolar disorders, and depression. People with a cognitive disability may need more time, clear instructions, and patience.
Some people with cognitive disabilities use assistive technologies, such as speech recognition and screen reader software, to work with computers and devices. Some people may need to adjust the display of web pages in order to reduce clutter, hide distracting content, or reformat text to make it easier to read.