When it comes to digital accessibility, we’re long past optional. In today’s virtual environment, making sure that your institution’s online presence is accessible to all audiences is absolutely vital.
Ignore digital accessibility at your own peril:
However, more than 90% of websites are inaccessible to users who rely on assistive technology. It’s no surprise, then, that annual lawsuits specifically targeting websites for not accommodating users with disability are in the thousands every year.
Digital accessibility is especially important in a higher education context. After all, the goal to educate every potential student is present in almost every institution’s mission statement. To accomplish it, you have to ensure that every student, regardless of their disability or situation, can access your digital content equally.
To get there means becoming an accessibility champion. The concept matters not just for your website but also for your digital map. One straightforward way to get there is by embracing the four POUR Principles.
Embracing Digital Accessibility Through the POUR Principles
Accessibility is complex. The most recent Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) span hundreds of individual pages and explanations. Fortunately, much of it can be distilled into a single, four-legged set of guideposts called the POUR principles.
The POUR principles are designed to make digital accessibility simple. Each one has a defined focus. But they all work together to make your online presence (including your digital campus map) as easy as possible for every potential user to browse and navigate.
1. Perceivable (P)
As its name suggests, WCAG defines “perceivable” as making sure that all users can perceive your website in some way. That sounds obvious, but it largely makes sure that all parts of your website can be seen and heard by users, including students with disabilities.
Making sure your digital presence follows the first of the four POUR principles means implementing a few critical features:
- Provide ALT text for all images that describes exactly what’s shown on the image for anyone with a vision disability.
- Add captions and written transcripts to all videos to make sure users with auditory disabilities can still get the same message.
- Create audio voiceover options for written text to help users with dyslexia or other vision impairments.
- Optimize your website and digital map for screen readers.
The key here is that no user is excluded from consuming your content, no matter the disability. Everyone should understand, at least on a basic level, the content you’re trying to get across.
2. Operable (O)
The second POUR Principle focuses on making sure that any students with disabilities can operate your digital content as well as those without disabilities. For example, some students with motor disabilities may not be able to use a mouse or any hardware and require alternative ways of navigation.
When discussing the “Operable” principle, WCAG includes a few recommendations that colleges and universities can implement:
- Provide keyboard shortcuts for all navigational tasks, like using arrow keys to zoom or move across the digital campus map.
- Optimize the content for alternative input devices, like voice assistants that react and navigate based on verbal commands.
- Provide enough time for each piece of content, allowing users with neurological disabilities to consume the content at their own pace.
- Avoid flashing colors or loud music queues to prevent harm to users who might be prone to seizures.
As with other POUR Principles, the key to being operable is giving every user a fair chance to experience your virtual content, regardless of disability. The more you can level the playing field by providing additional and optional navigational options, the better.
3. Understandable (U)
Making your content understandable means ensuring that students with any type of disability can comprehend it just as easily as those without one. WCAG proposes a few ways to help you get there:
- Use clear and simple language throughout, especially on headlines and call-to-action buttons.
- Use consistent navigation, both graphically and linguistically, across all of your digital platforms.
- Include clear and obvious error messages on forms and bad links that tell users exactly where they went wrong and how to fix it.
- Provide good contrast between different visuals, like a caption on a picture, to help users with vision impairments quickly get what they need.
The key to this POUR Principle is simplicity. The easier your digital content is to experience and consume for all types of users, the more likely you are to be in compliance across the board.
4. Robust (R)
Making your online presence “robust” can seem vague. But WCAG clarifies that this is about making sure it performs and succeeds regardless of how your users consume it. No matter the browser or technology they use to access it, they should be able to easily get your core message and satisfy their needs.
Getting to that point means putting a few technical measures in place:
- Ensure compatibility with assistive technologies, like screen readers and non-keyword or mouse input devices.
- Test your content to make sure it displays equally well on all browsers and all types of devices, from Firefox to Chrome and laptops to iPhones.
You’ll also want to make sure that your content is robust enough to account for potential future accessibility updates. WCAG updates about every three to four years. So knowing what’s coming, as well as putting measures in place to account for those updates, can future-proof your website for accessibility.
Digital accessibility is not just a trend or a nice-to-have, but a necessary requirement for any higher education institution that wants to provide equal access to its online resources for all students. The POUR Principles can help ensure that your higher education institution’s digital presence is accessible, usable, and understandable for everyone. By embracing digital accessibility, you lay the foundation for a truly accessible and equitable digital future.
Ready to learn more? Contact us for a deeper conversation about our commitment to accessibility or get your copy of our Ultimate Checklist For A More Accessible Higher Ed Website.