What is web accessibility?

Web accessibility is the process of ensuring all websites and online systems can be used and interpreted by everybody, including those with specific needs. For a website or online system to be deemed as accessible in this way, means it complies with the international WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility standard.

As a University, we acknowledge that every user deserves an equal right to use our online services and we are committed to continuously improving our web accessibility and digital materials to make our online content as inclusive and consistent as possible for everyone.

Through optimising the accessibility of these digital platforms, we need to ensure there aren’t any barriers in place that will prevent any given user from engaging with our content.

What the University is doing about accessibility

As University of Essex is a public sector organisation, Government regulations state that our website and online systems are legally required to comply with certain accessibility standards to ensure they can be used and understood by as many people as possible.

Colleagues across the University have reviewed our digital systems and we are working to address any areas that do not meet accessibility standards.

This is an ongoing University-wide operation that requires system owners to work with wider teams to ensure the online content that they are producing and publishing is compliant.

Colleagues who are responsible for creating or uploading any type of digital content for an online platform will need to take action to ensure that the work they produce is compliant. It is also vital that all members of our community take a proactive approach in helping us to ensure that we are all championing these standards. Accessibility training is also being provided to any staff that require it.

How to make accessible online content

If you are a web author or member of staff at Essex who is responsible for creating content that may be published online, there are a number of practical steps you can take to help ensure it is accessible to all website users.

1. Write clearly and concisely

Consider your choice of language and writing style and how it might be experienced by the different types of people reading it:

  • Write in short, clear sentences that can be easily skimmed, where possible
  • If appropriate, break up large sections of text with headings and bulleted or numbered lists
  • Provide a glossary or explanation for complex or academic terms that readers may not be familiar with
  • Use natural vocabulary and avoiding overuse of acronyms and abbreviations

2. Structure your content

Use headings to give your web content a clear hierarchy structure to improve its readability. This is essential for those who rely on screen reader technologies. To do this in CMS, such as Sitecore, use the Heading functionality – the H1 option will always be used for the main page heading, then this will be followed by H2 for sub-section headings, and then headings within these sub-sections, should be H3. More information on how to add structured headings in Sitecore can be found on our staff directory.

3. Use accessible hyperlinks

An accessible link should be descriptive so that it makes sense to users, even when read out of context. This means avoiding vague terms such as ‘click here’, and instead writing the details out in full, for example ‘See the full calendar of events’.

Additionally, URLs should be embedded and hyperlinked within your text. For example, ‘visit the University of Essex website’ rather than ‘visit: www.essex.ac.uk’ or ‘click here’. Additional guidance for adding accessible hyperlinks to web content can be found on the staff directory.

4. Include alternative (alt) text with images

When using images in your content, you will need to accompany them with an alternative text description (alt text) which explains the contents of an image – there is an option to include this when you upload your image to the Sitecore media library. This is essential because people who use screen readers will interpret the alt text as an audio description of the image rather than visually seeing it.

5. Ensure documents are accessible

If you wish to include a document alongside your web content then this too will need to be accessible. The steps you need to take to include this will depend on the type of file and its purpose. If the document contains only plain text then the preference would be to instead include this copy within the web page as standard HTML rather than uploading it as a separate downloadable file. For other types of documents, it will be necessary to create the file in an accessible format using an accessible branded template, There is a course on LinkedIn Learning you can use to help with creating accessible documents. Similarly, media items such as videos will also need to meet accessibility guidelines to ensure all users including those who are deaf and hard-of-hearing can access the information included within the content through captions and transcripts.

Get help with web accessibility

This blog is intended to serve as an introduction into producing accessible web content and is not intended to replace the full WCAG 2.1 guidance. For more information about web accessibility, please refer to the Government website and the staff directory.

If you are producing new web content, or making updates to existing content on our website, and have any queries about web accessibly, the Web and Digital Media team will be more than happy to help you. Please email us at wedm@essex.ac.uk.