Commonly Used Terms in Web Accessibility
Accessible web content is usable by all people, regardless of physical or developmental abilities or impairments. Web accessibility uses the principle of universal design to make websites, applications, and content that is usable by persons with disabilities who may or may not be using assistive technologies to access the site.
Screen readers require descriptions of all graphics (photographs, charts, or other images) to be added by the author of the website or document. This description is called alternative (alt) text. When a screen reader reaches an image on your page or document, it will read out loud the description you have added. Alt text allows a user of a screen reader to get a sense of what that image is and it’s purpose in context.
When encountering a lengthy web page or document, sighted users often scroll the page quickly and look for big, bold text (headings) to get an idea of the structure and content of the page. Users of assistive technology also have the ability to navigate web pages by heading structure, assuming true, pre-formatted headings are used (as opposed to text that is styled to be big and/or bold). This means that the user can view or hear a list of all of the headings on the page, or can read or jump by headings, or even navigate directly to top level headings or headings that are lower in the hierarchy (subheadings).
Web pages and documents should be structured in a hierarchical manner, see nesting.
Something clickable, also know as simply a link. A hyperlink is an embedded command that allows you to jump somewhere else on the web, within a document or set of documents, or launch something (for example, a video) by clicking on text or an image. Hyperlinks are a big part of web surfing, giving users the ability to freely move around from one topic of interest to another quickly and easily.
Hyperlinks can take many forms - underlined text (often in blue), images, drop-down menus, etc. You know you've found one when you're browsing the Internet and your mouse pointer on the screen will turn from an arrow into a pointing finger.
Nesting refers to the hierarchy of headings in a page structure or a list of items. Web pages and documents should be structured in a hierarchical manner, generally with one 1st degree headings being the most important (your site name or document title), then 2nd degree headings (your page title on the CMS or the major section headings of your document), followed by 3rd degree headings (sub-sections of your web page or subsections of the major section headings of your document), and so on. Lower degree headings should be contained within headings of the next highest degree (i.e., one should not skip heading levels, such as from a Heading 2 to a Heading 4, going down the page or document).
The following outline shows an example of such a hierarchy:
Language Studies - 1
Asian Languages - 2
Germanic Languages - 2
Slavic Languages - 2
Czech - 3
Users with severe visual impairment may rely on a screen reader to access websites. A screen reader is a software program that takes the on-screen text and reads it out loud to the user. Visual cues, such as photographs, graphics, or table headers, may be unperceivable to this audience unless additional information is added (text alternatives for images “alt text” and other visual content and the specification of key landmarks, e.g. headings and lists, within a document). VoiceOver for Apple is the screen reader primarily used on this campus. If you have a MAC, you can turn your built-it screen reader VoiceOver on or off by pressing command+F5. Try out a screen reader simulator.
Transcripts allow anyone that cannot access content from web audio or video to read a text version instead. They also allow the content of your multimedia to be searchable, both by computers (such as search engines) and by end users.
Descriptive transcripts include additional information about what is heard in the video. They should contain additional descriptions, explanations, or comments that may be beneficial, such as indications of laughter or an explosion.
In order to be fully accessible to the maximum number of users, web multimedia should include both synchronized captions AND a descriptive transcript.
Universal design (also barrier-free or inclusive design) refers to design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. Elements that have been universally designed are inherently accessible to older people, people without disabilities, and people with disabilities.
WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) is a set of web accessibility guidelines published by the W3C, which is the main standards organization for the World Wide Web. WCAG is the most widely adopted standard for creating accessible web content. At Brandeis, we strive to meet the standards of web accessibility known as WCAG 2.0 AA.