Making Your College Catalog Meet Accessibility Standards

December 19, 2016

It’s likely that in the past few years your college has had a conversation or two about accessibility — making your academic and marketing materials usable by people on any device with any sort of limitations. In Washington — where Clean Catalog is based — colleges are now required to comply with WCAG 2.0 standards for all their public-facing documents.

At many colleges, the catalog can be one of the biggest pain points for accessibility. It’s one of the most essential documents for the college community to have, but it’s also one of the most difficult to make accessible, simply by sheer size and complexity of content. Fortunately, there are a few things to keep in mind that can help you make your college’s catalog accessible.

PDFs Aren’t Accessible, but Webpages Can Be

If your college posts a PDF of the catalog online, we have bad news for you: it’s not accessible. If you carefully lay out and tag your PDF, it’s possible that a screen reader will be able to make sense of it. But most of the time, it’s going to end up working like this.

Additionally, PDFs end up being too long and bulky to navigate easily on screen readers — not to mention mobile devices. A 200-page, 7 megabyte PDF is extremely difficult to use on a phone — it’s a lot of scrolling, and searching is nearly impossible — and on a screen reader it’s going to be nearly impossible to find anything useful.

For accessibility, moving your PDF to a web-based format can be a huge win.

Well-Structured HTML is 90% of Web Accessibility

HTML — the markup format used on webpages — is naturally accessible. If a page’s HTML is structured according to standards, screen readers will naturally be able to navigate it and skip between sections.

You can see what well-structured HTML looks like on Peninsula College’s Accounting 101 page. The header is wrapped in a <header> tag, which indicates to screen readers and other accessible devices that it’s not the main page content and can be easily skipped. The main page content is wrapped in an <article> tag, which tells screen readers that it’s the main content. Within that, the page title is wrapped in an <h1> tag, indicating that it’s the title, and just below that the main page content starts.

This is a simple example, but following best practices for HTML structure even on longer, more complicated pages will get you 90% of the way there on accessibility.

Making Your Content Easy to Navigate Is the Other 10%

Even if a webpage meets accessibility standards for HTML structure, users still need to be able to get to it on a variety of devices. Usually this means breaking content into the smallest chunks possible, and making those chunks easy to get to. For example, on the Clover Park Technical College catalog, instead of having a single page with every class description, classes are broken up by program and easy to find from there.

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