If you agree that everyone deserves access to education, then you probably believe that accessibility is important. In physical spaces like classrooms and theaters, accessibility may take the form of ramps, elevators, or special seating. Maybe you have a sign-language interpreter available or offer assistive listening devices. But what about on your website?
Accessibility takes a different and sometimes less visible form in digital spaces, but it is just as relevant. To make learning accessible to everyone, you need a website that everyone can use. That means your website and your registration software need to be accessible too.
Unfortunately, website accessibility isn’t a given. Unless you’ve made a conscious effort to build an accessible website, you probably don’t have one. Course registration software and other online tools can also affect accessibility. Here’s how to make the whole course registration process more accessible.
Why Digital Accessibility Matters
You may already be convinced that making your website accessible is just the right thing to do because your organization believes in empathy and inclusion. But digital accessibility is also good for your program’s bottom line. Here are three reasons why:
- Accessibility is good for everyone. Many of the measures that improve accessibility for people with vision, mobility, or hearing impairments also create a more pleasant customer experience for everyone. Who doesn’t want websites that are easy to understand and navigate?
- It expands your pool of potential students. Globally, around 1.85 billion people have a disability. If you’re not meeting the needs of students with disabilities, you’re missing a huge portion of the market. From a purely business perspective, making your website accessible is a smart investment.
- It helps fulfill your mission. Whatever your mission is, you probably want to reach as many learners as possible. Making your program more accessible helps you meet that goal. The more students you attract, the more your program can grow.
So accessibility is more than a way of being inclusive, it’s also a smart move for any program that wants to grow and reach more students.
Who Monitors Accessibility
Physical public spaces are subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act and the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Over the last decade or so, the application of the ADA guidelines has been expanded to cover websites as well. The law states that any business open to the public must “provide full and equal enjoyment of their goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to people with disabilities”
Exactly how the owners of websites meet those guidelines isn’t outlined in the law. There’s no comprehensive legal standard for what makes a website accessible. However, some organizations do offer guidelines, including:
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from the Web Accessibility Initiative
- Section 508 Standards from the U.S. Access Board
Following the guidelines provided by these organizations can help your website meet minimum standards of accessibility. Just remember that these really are minimum standards. Don’t think of them as goals, but as starting points for accessibility.
How to Tell if Your Website and Course Registration Software is Accessible
You can check for accessibility by running your website through a web accessibility evaluation tool. The Web Accessibility Initiative provides a list of accessibility checkers but doesn’t endorse any particular tool.
Work with your developer to run your website through accessibility checks for elements like:
- Color contrast
- HTML markup (code issues)
- Forms, tables, and images
- User experience
While automated tools are useful, ideally, you wouldn’t rely on them alone. If possible, invite feedback from members of your community, especially those who have disabilities. Although one person can’t speak for everyone, community members can give you insight into their personal experiences.
Quick Tips for Making Websites More Accessible
Here are a few quick ways to easily make your site more accessible. These measures alone won’t make your site accessible for everyone, but they’re a good first step.
- Pay attention to contrast – Bright text on a white background can be challenging for anyone, but such low-contrast color schemes are a serious stumbling block for people with vision impairments.
- Include alt text – For visual elements like photos, include alternative text that clearly explains what is pictured. This makes images more accessible for those with vision impairments.
- Include captions and transcripts – If you’re sharing videos or audio recordings, include captions or a link to a transcript. This enables people with hearing impairments to experience your content. It’s also good practice because many people without disabilities prefer to watch videos on mute.
- Write meaningful link text – when you’re linking from one page to another, users should be able to understand where the link will take them. Avoid vague links like “click here” or “learn more.” Adding a couple of words can make all the difference. For example: “Learn more about writing meaningful link text.”
- Provide clear and unique page titles – This makes navigation easier for people who are using screen readers and other supportive devices. Remember that visual cues like icons and images may not be accessible to everyone.
Note that many of the guidelines for good search engine optimization overlap with accessibility guidelines. So when you make your website more accessible, you’re probably making it more visible to search engines as well!
Questions to ask your web developer
Some accessibility measures are beyond the scope of simple content adjustments. You’ll need to get your web developer involved. Here are a few questions to ask your web developer to make sure your website structure is accessible.
- Does this website employ universal design principles? Universal design is a set of principles that guide the development of environments that can be accessed and used by everyone.
- Could someone navigate our website using just the keyboard? Both a mouse and a touchscreen rely on fine motor control. To make your website accessible to everyone, make sure all functionality is accessible from the keyboard.
- Will this website design be accessible to screen readers and other assistive devices? Some people with disabilities use specialized tools to access the internet. These tools may read content aloud, automatically adjust contrast, or provide voice control. Developers should be aware of how the website will be understood by these devices.
Make the Registration Process Accessible
Remember that your course registration software is part of your website. It should offer the same high standard of accessibility as the other parts of your site.
Without accessible course registration software, someone may be interested in your class but unable to register. That creates a poor customer experience and may even be considered discrimination.
Your registration software should follow all of the same accessibility guidelines as the rest of your website. If you already have registration software, you can use accessibility checker tools to assess the level of accessibility.
If you’re shopping for registration software, ask about accessibility. The software provider should be able to tell you if their software meets accessibility guidelines. You can also check their website for language like: Level AA WCAG or Level AAA WCAG.
Note that although the guidelines for these levels are set by the web accessibility initiative, software providers and website owners self-evaluate their level of conformance. So it’s important to do your own checks and verify their claims.