The push for Web Accessibility at Penn State began with the lawsuit filed against the University by the National Federation of the Blind on November 10, 2010 (see original complaint). A settlement was reached one year later (November 2011) and included a plan of action for the University to become compliant. Penn State formed the Accessible Information Technology (AIT) Committee to facilitate all efforts in making Penn State-related Web sites as accessible as possible for those whose circumstances, from blindness to motion limitations, require specific attention from Web developers and designers.

No Web site is 100% accessible, but there are many ways to test a site and implement immediate updates to make it more accessible. The purpose of this page is to collect such resources and offer a hand from the AIS Web Team should you need further help in the area of Web site accessibility.

To view a section, please click on the appropriate link below:


Penn State's policy on Accessibility (AD69) states the following purpose: "The Pennsylvania State University is committed to ensuring equal access to information, programs, and activities through its technologies, Web pages, services and resources for all its constituencies. This policy establishes standards for the accessibility of Web-based information and services considered necessary to meet this goal and ensure compliance with applicable local, state, and federal regulations and laws."

The main points of AD69, as described at the PSU Accessibility page, are:

  • Applies to pages "used to conduct core University business or academic activities," and course work is mentioned. Personal pages are exempt.
  • Applies to pages two years old or newer. Older pages need to be updated upon request. The policy strongly recommends making accessible pages and services relating to core institutional information and services.
  • Accessibility statements should be posted, even on older pages.
  • Guidelines are WCAG 2.0, Level AA (see links below).
  • Pages or services can be exempt ONLY if accessibility is not technologically possible or is extraordinarily difficult.

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Penn State follows the WCAG 2.0 guidelines:

Since this document is filled with more info than you could ever need, we recommend using this relatively easy-to-follow checklist of the most important aspects of the WCAG 2.0 guidelines, constructed by WebAIM:

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Site-Assessment Tools

Screen Readers
The best approach to identifying accessibility issues is the use of a screen reader. The most popular screen readers are JAWS (PC) and VoiceOver (Mac). While VoiceOver is a free application that comes standard with Apple products, there is no such native application for PCs. But, while the full version of JAWS is costly, you can download and utilize the trial version for 40-minute intervals (after rebooting) for up to 30 days. The Web Team also has a single licensed copy of JAWS and is willing to assist you with testing your application with this tool. Another screen reader for PCs is NVDA, which is free and open source. Please see the links below for information on all of these products.

Toolbars and Plug-Ins
Beyond using screen readers, you can pinpoint accessibility issues by installing software that scans open Web pages and identifies errors. We recommend installing the WAVE toolbar or the FireEyes toolbar. WAVE will check your Web page and return specific error results, such as missing ALT tags or insufficient image descriptions. Deque's FireEyes will perform similarly, with the added benefit of specific attention paid to JavaScript functionality.

Color Contrast Checkers
Color contrast is an important, yet less addressed, accessibility concern that is actually easy to diagnose. For low-sighted and color blind users, it can mean the difference between reading content or navigating away in frustration. There are many contrast checker tools available, the most straightforward of which comes from Jonathan Snook of His tool allows you to scroll across all potential combinations for foreground text and background colors, with instant pass/fail results. Another tool, the Colorblind Web Page Filter, will read the page of an entered URL and give results based upon different levels of color blindness.

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We have talked about the ‘whys’, ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ of Web accessibility, but in order to strategize, we must address the ‘whens’. That is where planning your site remediation comes in. Due to a number of factors such as level of difficulty, range of impact or time constraints, every accessibility issue on your site should not carry equal weight. With a remediation plan that involves prioritization, you can attack issues in a way that will benefit the site with greater impact than if you scattered your focus equally over a wide range of issues.

Listed here are factors to consider for prioritizing a remediation plan (source: Karl Groves).

1. Impact on Users with Disabilities
Prioritizing high, medium, or low impact on the user experience is the most important consideration for remediation. These three levels can be defined as: users will be unable to perform important system tasks or unable to understand important content if this item is left not repaired (high); users will be able to perform important system task with some level of difficulty or will be able to understand important content with difficulty if this item is left not repaired (medium); users will be inconvenienced by leaving this item not repaired, but will be able to accomplish all tasks (low).

2. Ease & Speed of Repair
Prioritizing the easier-to-fix over the more complicated and involved issues can lead to quicker results in site remediation. Since less time is necessary for less technically complicated issues, you could resolve many more over the same span of time than focusing on one large, hard-to-solve issue in the same amount of time.

3. Location of Issues
Utilizing site analytic tools such as Google Analytics, you should discern whether or not a particular issue exists on popular, well-visited pages of your site. Dedicating time to fixes on pages that don’t get many views can be a waste of your time and resources.

4. Secondary Benefit
Sometimes an accessibility fix can positively impact the user experience in unexpected ways, such as ease of use for elderly population, or in the case of advances in mobile technology, a more intuitive experience for all. This component is naturally less of a consideration for remediation than an added bonus.

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PSU Resources

All of the above complement each other as approaches to attacking errors, and combined with the WebAIM WCAG checklist, you are prepared to make your site more accessible. The PSU Accessibility site is a great a resource for tool links, info about issues beyond what a screen reader or toolbar could diagnose (like video captioning, audio transcripts), and its list of "top blockers," meaning those issues that are the biggest and most common hurdles to an accessible site.

Also, PSU's Yammer community has a group dedicated to accessibility.

Finally, the AIS Web Team is available to answer any accessibility-related questions you may have as you approach site remediation. We can be reached at the e-mail address at the bottom of this page.

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Content Questions: AIS Webmaster
Page Last Updated or Reviewed: Monday, October 22, 2012