What is Digital Accessibility

Digital Accessibility is concerned with providing equal access to digital communications and platforms to everyone and not just limited to persons with disabilities or special needs. Unlike accommodations, accessible materials are built to provide equal access for individuals, as much as possible, prior to any formal request.  

Accessibility refers to whether a product or service can be used by anyone regardless of disability. Can users interact with digital products and services? The traditional perception that electronic information can be accessed easily using a mouse and keyboard does not account for people who are unable to use such devices or simply rely on assistive technology to do so.  

Accessible vs. Accommodations

It is important to distinguish between the terms accessible and accommodation. An item may be available because it is posted online. However, if not everyone can navigate or interact with the item then it is not accessible. The term accommodation refers to making a modification for someone to gain access or participate as fully as others. Accommodations are made on an individual, as needed, basis. For a more detailed explanation of the difference, you can check out the Access vs. Accommodation page in SBCTC’s Micro-Courses.

Making digital content accessible is a proactive (versus reactive) action to ensure everyone can navigate or interact with items without having to ask for it to be in a format they can engage with. 

The What is Accessibility video (below) refers to both accessibility in the physical sense as well as the digital sense, and is helpful in hearing how proactively creating digital materials to be accessible from the start is an act of creating equitable learning content. 

Barriers to Access 

For people with these disabilities, a barrier to access is anything that causes confusion, distraction, or otherwise makes content difficult to understand. These barriers can be auditory, cognitive or neurological, physical, speech, and/or visual. 

Examples include:  

  • Complex navigation and webpage layouts
  • Long passages of text without images, graphs, or other illustrations to reinforce context.
  • Moving, blinking, or flickering content that cannot be paused or turned off 
  • Background audio that cannot be turned off
  • Visual page designs that cannot be adapted using custom style sheets
  • Excessive use of fonts and color that do not contribute to content 

Removing Those Barriers 

To make content accessible to people with cognitive and neurological disabilities, you need to present information in a clear, concise, and consistent way while minimizing potential distractions.  

  • Write in a way that is concise, straightforward, and easy to understand—including graphs and illustrations where beneficial.
  • Structure your content so that people can orient themselves to the page and get an overview of it before moving to any one part (i.e. use headings and sub-headings to add sections to content).
  • Label links, page controls, and forms consistently so that the function is always apparent.
  • Provide different ways to navigate your site, such as a search box or site map.
  • Provide the option to turn off or hide blinking, flashing, or otherwise distracting content.

Your Role in Creating Accessible Content 

In our every day work, we are creating digital content, and by law as a higher education institution, we need to ensure that we are creating them in an accessible format.

Examples of where we need to ensure we are creating accessible content includes: 

  • Emails we send 
  • Word, Excel, PowerPoints, and PDFs we create and send electronically or post online
  • Websites and webpages
  • Forms to be filled out on the computer, whether web or in a file
  • Materials uploaded into Canvas
  • Videos posted (whether your own creation or not)
  • Software and/or web-tools we procure
  • Course publisher materials
  • Digital library resources
  • Open Educational Resources (OER) 

Learn more about how to make digital content accessible.