Accessibility Definitions



A person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally effective and equally integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use. A person with a disability must be able to obtain the information as fully, equally, and independently as a person without a disability. Although this might not result in identical ease of use compared to that of persons without disabilities, it still must ensure equal opportunity to the educational benefits and opportunities afforded by the technology and equal treatment in the use of such technology.


Accessibility is the usability of a product, service, environment or facility by people with the widest range of capabilities.

accessibility standards

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) have been developed through the W3C process in cooperation with individuals and organizations around the world, with a goal of proving a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally. WCAG 2.0 is a stable, referenceable technical standard. It has 12 guidelines that are organized under 4 principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. For each guideline, there are testable success criteria, which are at three levels: A, AA, and AAA.

alternative descriptions (Alt attribute/alt text/text alternatives)

Computers and screen readers cannot analyze an image and determine what the image presents. As developers, text must be provided to the user which presents the CONTENT and FUNCTION of the images within your web content. Alternative text can be presented in two ways: Within the alt attribute of the img element. Within the context or surroundings of the image itself.

ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) /Interactive web elements

ARIA is a web programming library that assists accessible technology and their users in interacting with dynamic web elements. These help the user determine structure and function of the web page elements, similar to the use of styles and headings.

assistive technology

Assistive technology (AT) is any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.
Resources: Assistive Technology Industry Association: What is AT?

audio descriptions

A narration service that attempts to describe what the sighted person takes for granted -- those images that a person who is b/Blind or visually impaired formerly could only experience through the whispered asides from a sighted companion.
Resources: The Audio Description Project An Initiative of the American Council of the Blind



A procedure of breaking up learning materials into manageable sections (e,g., grouping of words in sentences into short meaningful phrases).
Resources: National Center on Universal Design for Learning

closed captioning

Closed captioning displays the audio portion of a television program as text on the TV screen, providing a critical link to news, entertainment and information for individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.


content (clear and concise)

Use simple language and formatting, as appropriate for the context. Consider providing a glossary for terms readers may not know. Expand acronyms on first use. For example, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Consider using images, illustrations, video, audio, and symbols to help clarify meaning.
Resources: Keep content clear and concise

color/text contrast

Color contrast is about finding colors that not only provide maximum contrast, but provide enough contrast between content and the background for anyone with low vision impairments and color deficiencies. The text and non-decorative images need to be clearly legible for everyone regardless of whether they have moderately low vision or color deficiencies.
Resources: Provide sufficient contrast between foreground and background

complex images

Complex images contain substantial information – more than can be conveyed in a short phrase or sentence. These are typically: graphs and charts, including flow charts and organizational charts; diagrams and illustrations where the page text relies on the user being able to understand the image; maps showing locations or other information such as weather systems. In these cases, a two-part text alternative is required. The first part is the short description to identify the image and, where appropriate, indicate the location of the long description. The second part is the long description – a textual representation of the essential information conveyed by the image.
Resources: W3C Complex images

content management system

A software application used to upload, edit, and manage content displayed on a website.  The content management system UC uses is AEM, a web-based content management system that is accessed using a web browser.
Resources: UC Digital Communications Web Content Management


decorative images

Decorative images don’t add information to the content of a page. For example, the information provided by the image might already be given using adjacent text, or the image might be included to make the website more visually attractive.
Resources: W3C Decorative Images

descriptive links

Write link text so that it describes the content of the link target. Avoid using ambiguous link text, such as 'click here' or 'read more'.
Resources: Make link text meaningful  

document language

Since every language has its own pronunciation rules, the screen reader needs to know which language it should “speak.” It is important to set this for Word documents so the information is transferred to the PDF, if you choose to export to that format.


EIT (Electronic and Information Technology)

Technology resources, software, applications, and services used by the university to make information and content available to faculty, staff, students, prospective students, guests, and visitors. EIT resources include, but not limited to, the university’s websites, online learning (or eLearning) environment, and course management systems.

Equally Effective Alternative Access Plan (EEAP)

An Equally Effective Alternate Access Plan (EEAAP) is a valuable resource that an institution can use if it is necessary to buy, develop, or use a technology that is not fully accessible. This plan describes how to provide alternate access to the same information or services offered by a less-than-accessible technology. Having an EEAAP in place for technologies that are not fully accessible will help ensure that all students will have fair and equal access in a timely manner as required by law.
Resources: UDL On Campus: Equally Effective Alternate Access Plan (EEAAP)

electronic accessibility (eAccessibility)

Electronic accessibility, or eAccessibility, refers to the ease of use of information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as the Internet, by people with disabilities. Web sites need to be developed so that users with assistive technology can access the information.
Resources: WHO: What is e-accessibility?


flashing/blinking content

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) outline specific thresholds for size, frequency, intensity or contrast of the flashes, and red color. In general, if the content flashes more than three times per second, is notably large (a small animating image would not cause a seizure), has bright contrast in the flashes, it may cause a seizure and should be avoided. 
Resources: Moving, Flashing, or Blinking Content

four principles of accessibility

The guidelines and Success Criteria of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 are organized around the following four principles, which lay the foundation necessary for anyone to access and use Web content.

Anyone who wants to use the Web must have content that is:

  • Perceivable - Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive. This means that users must be able to perceive the information being presented (it can't be invisible to all of their senses)
  • Operable - User interface components and navigation must be operable. This means that users must be able to operate the interface (the interface cannot require interaction that a user cannot perform)
  • Understandable - Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable. This means that users must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface (the content or operation cannot be beyond their understanding)
  • Robust - Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. This means that users must be able to access the content as technologies advance (as technologies and user agents evolve, the content should remain accessible) If any of these are not true, users with disabilities will not be able to use the Web.



graphics with text

Images of text display text that is intended to be read. With the current capabilities in most web browsers, it is good design practice to use actual text rather than image-based text presentation. Genuine text is much more flexible than images: It can be resized without losing clarity, and background and text colors can be modified to suit the reading preferences of users. Images are more likely to distort and pixelate when resized. In those rare situations where images of text must be used, the text alternative must contain the same text presented in the image.
Resources: Images of Text



Use short headings to group related paragraphs and clearly describe the sections. Good headings provide an outline of the content. Headings can be found under "Styles" in most word processing software.


individual with disability

Federal laws define a person with a disability as “any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment.” 
Resources: What is the definition of disability under the ADA?

inaccessible technologies/applications

Not all technologies or applications are designed to be accessible; however, planning for accessibility from the start helps to streamline the process. This includes setting up websites properly, checking software for accessibility barriers, creating electronic accessible documents, etc.
Resources: Making the Web Accessible


We learn and work best in an environment where we are accepted, included, and heard.  Inclusion is ensuring all everyone has equal access to the resources they need.  Universal Design for Learning is a pedagogical approach to designing curricula and learning environments for a diversity of learners providing multiple pathways towards success.
Resources: Fostering Inclusion with Universal Design for Learning


jargon, idioms, and/or abbreviations

Certain disabilities make it difficult to understand nonliteral word usage and specialized words or usage. Certain disabilities make it difficult to understand figurative language or specialized usage. Providing such mechanisms is vital for these audiences.


keyboard-only navigation

Many individuals with motor disabilities, individuals who are Blind, or individuals with limited mobility rely solely on a keyboard to navigate through websites and electronic documents. In addition to traditional keyboards, some users may use modified keyboards or other hardware that mimics the functionality of a keyboard. It is important to create a digital environment that allows a user to move through the page easily using only a keyboard, as well as avoiding traps that do not allow the individual to leave the page.
Resources: Keyboard Compatibility (Video)


learning management system (LMS)

A software application used to organize and distribute e-learning materials, assignments, and assessments; track and calculate grades; and facilitate communication among students and teachers. Abbreviation: LMS. Currently, the University of Cincinnati supports Blackboard as our Enterprise level LMS. Blackboard Universal Design and Accessibility for Online Learning


Legibility is a key factor in visual communications for the built environment. If the messages on signs, displays, screens, interpretive graphics, or other environmental/experiential graphics are not readable, they are not effective. Recommended fonts are: Times New Roman, Verdana, Arial, Tahoma, Helvetica, or Calibri)

live captions

Enable people who are deaf or hard of hearing to watch real-time presentations. Captions provide the part of the content available via the audio track. Captions not only include dialogue, but also identify who is speaking and notate sound effects and other significant audio.
Resources: Captions (Live)


Lists are used to group related pieces of information together, so they are clearly associated with each other and easy to read. In modern web development lists are workhorse elements, frequently used for navigation as well as general content. Lists are good from a structural point of view as they help create a well-structured, more accessible, easy-to-maintain document.

logical reading order

For sighted users, the logical order of PDF content is also the visual order on the screen. For keyboard and assistive technology users, the tab order through content, including interactive elements (form fields and links), determines the order in which these users can navigate the content. The tab order must reflect the logical order of the document.



Multimedia content (audio and video that play together) needs to be made accessible to people with disabilities. Multimedia must provide textual equivalents such as closed captioning, synchronized with the time-based media to allow access for users who are deaf or hard of hearing. Similarly, audio description must be provided to describe the visual aspects of multimedia for people who are blind or visually impaired.


non-text content (math and science equations, STEM materials)

Non-text content like math equations can be typed using alpha-numeric characters found on a computer keyboard, but often are inaccessible to a person using a screen reading software. Mathematical Markup Language or MathML is an XML application describing mathematical notation and capturing both its structure and content. Conceptual explanations also help readers understand the reasoning behind the math.

navigation (clear and consistent)

Many people rely on predictable user interfaces and are disoriented or distracted by inconsistent appearance or behavior. Examples of making content more predictable include:

  • Navigation mechanisms that are repeated on multiple pages appear in the same place each time
  • User interface components that are repeated on web pages have the same labels each time
  • Significant changes on a web page do not happen without the consent of the user.



outline (clear)

heading to more easily navigate through the document information. 



Automated website testing tools can “crawl” through the pages of a website and evaluate certain aspects of accessibility. These tools can be used to provide some indication of the likelihood that the website could pose accessibility problems for users. After a website is crawled or scanned, web authors work with team members from the Accessibility Network to resolve accessibility issues within their web pages.

reasonable accommodations

Reasonable accommodations are ad hoc modifications or adjustments to the tasks, environment or to the way things are usually done that enable individuals with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to participate in an academic program or a job. Examples of common academic accommodations at UC: quiet testing environment and extended time; note taker support; e-textbooks. UC is required to provide these accommodations to students who self-identify as having a disability.
Resources: Reasonable Accommodations Explained


Section 508, Section 504, ADA

Agencies must ensure that all published electronic information is compatible with assistive technology devices commonly used by people with disabilities for information and communication.  This applies to persons with disabilities who use assistive technology to read and navigate electronic materials.  If an electronic publication cannot be made compliant, a reasonable alternative to the document must be provided.
Resources: What is Section 504 and how does it relate to Section 508?

selectable text

Most of the time, a document scanned directly to PDF will not be accessible. Generally, the PDF produced from scanning is just an image of the text in that document. Without proper accessibility techniques, assistive technology, such as screen readers, cannot identify the contents of an image. One way to tell if a PDF contains text or is just an image is to try to select the text with the mouse pointer. If the text cannot be highlighted by itself, the document is an image.
Resources: Recognize Text in Scanned Documents

sensory information

While color, screen position, shape or sound can be useful to convey information, it should not be the only way information is conveyed. When using sensory information to differentiate elements, also provide additional identification that does not rely on that perception. For example, use an asterisk in addition to color to indicate required form fields, or use labels to distinguish areas on graphs.
Resources: Don't use color alone to convey information

slide templates

Every version of PowerPoint since at least 2000 contains a series of highly-accessible slide layouts. PowerPoint is designed to encourage the use of these slide layouts, especially in newer versions. Using these templates correctly will ensure that your files have correctly-structured headings and lists, proper reading order, etc. The correct use of slide layouts is probably the most significant thing you can do to ensure that your content is accessible.
Resources: How to Make Presentations Accessible to All



Tables, for accessibility purposes, are used to present data information in a grid or matrix form. The columns and rows of the data combine to convey the meaning of the information grid. Individuals who use screen readers to access this information need the cells in tables to be created in a way that they can understand these relationships as well.
Resources:  Tagging Tables for Accessibility in Word


Information in podcasts or other audio is not available to people who are deaf or some people who are hard of hearing, unless it is provided in an alternative format such as captions and text transcripts.
Resources: Multimedia (video, audio) alternatives


Universal Design for Learning

A set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn.
Resources: National Center on Universal Design for Learning: What is UDL?

URLs, abbreviated

Best practice is to use descriptive text (see descriptive links, above) to insert links into electronic documents, but URLs may not be able to be avoided. Keep in mind that screen readers read every distinct letter in a URL, or web address. To be respectful of the user, shorten the link using a link shortener, like or Google Shortener, to display a more managable link.
Resources: Bitly link shortener


very small text or graphics

Small text and graphics are challenging for many people to read. Some people need to enlarge web content in order to read it. Some need to change other aspects of text display: font, space between lines, and more, to improve legibility.
Resources: Resize text

VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template)

Federal contracting officials and other buyers need information about how a product or service conforms to the Section 508 Accessibility Standards from the U.S. Access Board. Section 508 certification doesn't exist - so agencies must rely on available information and testing results. The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) is a document that may be generated by a vendor to indicate a product's conformance with the Section 508 accessibility standards. The Template was designed to provide in formation in a consistent and comparable fashion and format.


WCAG 2.0 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is developed through the W3C process in cooperation with individuals and organizations around the world, with a goal of providing a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally. Resources: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Overview

white space

Many elements form the layout and structure of an interactive design. Often neglected, one of the most vital is white space (or negative space), the space found inside and surrounding the other design elements. White space is like a canvas: it’s the background that holds the elements together in a design, enabling them to stand out.