Making Your College Catalog Meet Accessibility Standards

December 19, 2016

Last updated: October 13, 2020

It is 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 state, where Clean Catalog is based, colleges are now required to comply with WCAG 2.1 AA 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 an accessible web-based course catalog is 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 follows 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.

The Other 10% of Accessibility Can Be Tricky — But We Take Care of It For You

Making your course catalog 100% accessible takes attention to detail:

  • elements need proper contrast
  • every form element needs to have the correct labels and markup associating those labels to fields
  • all images need alternative text
  • all menu navigation needs to be tabbable with a keyboard
  • ... and much more

Diagnosing web accessibility issues can be a big project in and of itself. Fortunately, with Clean Catalog, all of this attention to detail comes baked in. We've thoroughly vetted all of our software for accessibility, so you can have confidence that your catalog will meet every detail of accessibility standards.