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Accessibility: Accessibility Basics

This guide provides resources for creating content that is accessible for everyone.


According to the World Bank (2017), "one billion people, or 15% of the world's population, experience some form of disability". Accessible design is a process where technical and physical barriers are lowered or removed so that everyone can participate successfully. This guide was created to help Ottawa University faculty, staff, and students develop or adapt web based and digital materials so that they are accessible to everyone.

What is Accessibility?

When you think about accessibility, you may think about handicapped parking spaces and accessible building standards, but did you know that online content should be accessible as well? Poor content design can make it impossible for people with disabilities to use it.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) defines web accessibility as "websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can...perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the web and contribute to the web" (World Wide Web Consortium, 2018, para. 7). This includes content in electronic documents, websites, videos, images, online forms, computer software, digital textbooks and any other electronic content. Content should be designed so that everyone can access it.

Introduction to Web Accessibility and W3C Standards

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) provides guidelines for developing learning materials in a way that reduces barriers and increases learning for all learners. UDL emphasizes providing multiple means (ways, formats, etc.) for learners to engage with the content, providing multiple formats of the content, and providing options and flexibility in activities, assignments and assessments (CAST, 2018). UDL aims to provide students with the tools and skills they need to learn in the best way possible for them. UDL tries to make learning accessible to all no matter if a student has a documented disability or not (CAST, 2018).

Accessibility Facts

  • Accessible: all individuals are, with substantially equivalent ease of use, able to independently acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services within the same timeframe as all other individuals. Accessibility is proactive and is pursued in advance of use.
  • Accessibility Standards: compliance with federal and state laws and regulations as well as appropriate standards of the industry such as WCAG 2.0 AA.
  • Accommodation: an adaptation made to adjust to individual needs. Accommodations are reactive and customized to an individual.
  • Assistive Technology: any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a person with a disability.
  • Blind: all persons who have vision-related disability that requires the use of alternative techniques or assistive technology to access visual information.
  • Electronic and Information Technology (EIT): information technology and any equipment or interconnected system or subsystem of equipment that is used in the creation, conversion, or duplication of data or information. The term EIT includes, but is not limited to, the internet and intranet websites, content delivered in digital form, electronic books and electronic book reading systems, search engines and databases, learning and other content management systems, classroom technology and multimedia, personal response systems (“clickers”), and office equipment such as classroom podiums, copiers and fax machines. It also includes any equipment or interconnected system or subsystem of equipment that is used in the automatic acquisition, creation, storage, manipulation, management, movement, control, display, switching, interchange, transmission, or reception of data or information. This term includes telecommunications products such as telephones, Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), transaction machines, computers, ancillary equipment, software, firmware and similar procedures, services (including support services) and related resources.
  • Equally Effective: an alternative format or medium communicates the same information in as timely a fashion as does the original format or medium.
  • Timely: access in sufficient time for a person to have an equal opportunity to obtain the same result, to gain the same benefit, or to reach the same level of achievement as any other person.

Adapted with permission from Wichita State University's Accessibility Training Resources (2018)

Accessibility is an evolving standard that is guided by legal regulations, industry standards, and accessibility norms (which are more general). Accessibility should be considered in both digital content and face-to-face content. Digital content tends to have clear regulatory guidance, and face-to-face content does not.

Here are some important standards to familiarize yourself with:


CAST. (2018). The UDL guidelines. Retrieved from

Pennsylvania State University. (2018). Accessibility and usability at Penn State. Retrieved from

World Bank. (2018). Disability overview. Retrieved from

World Wide Web Consortium. (2018, February 7). Introduction to web accessibilityWeb Accessibility Initiative. Retrieved from