The Usual Suspects

Higher-ed sites often feature complex functionality, along with many different types of content, but a few accessibility problems are universal. Here's the major issues and how to solve them.

Alt Text

Attached to image files, alt text provides information for users who cannot see the image and rely on a screen reader. An added bonus of alt text is that it makes the content of your images indexable by search engines, which may impact your ranking. You can enter alt text through your site's content management system.

Keyboard Focus

Some people cannot use a mouse or trackpad and must use a keyboard instead to tab through the links on a page. For that reason, each clickable element on a page needs to be able to receive keyboard focus so that the user can interact with it. To fix keyboard focus issues, a developer will need to be involved.

Missing Form Labels

All form fields require labels; otherwise, important features such as search boxes and other inputs will render as blank text fields, and users could misinterpret them. As with enabling keyboard focus, a developer will need to add a label to the code.

Missing or Incorrect Video Captions

If you've ever tried to watch a video in a noisy office or on a flight, you know how irritating a lack of captions can be. Now that more users can stream video on their devices while on the go, they may prefer obtaining information that way instead of reading text. These users need the option to turn on closed captions or read a transcript so they don't miss any information. To add captions or transcripts to a video, consult your video hosting service.

PDF Problems

PDF files can be inaccessible for a variety of reasons. In some cases, the PDF is an image-only file, so the text in the PDF cannot be spoken by screen readers. In others, the PDF is not tagged so users can understand the structure of the information. Adobe Acrobat Pro features an accessibility tool that can check for PDF errors before upload.

Unclear Headings

Sometimes, headings that should be marked as headings might instead be plain text with styling to make it bold or a larger size. This can be difficult for users who cannot see a page and rely on headings to indicate the hierarchy of information. Following best practices or in-house guidelines for marking up content will save you trouble later, especially since unmarked headings often slip through the cracks of web accessibility tools. If your site authors are adept at HTML, they can inspect and fix these in code, or you could ask another team member to watch for these errors.

If you print out these issues and post them by your monitor or share them with your team, you'll be on your way to making your site easier to use and better serving your users.