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Web Accessibility Standards

Accessible design is all around us. Think about the public places we share with others. We expect to find accessible parking spaces, ramps to enter buildings, automatic switches to open doors, and elevators where there are multiple levels. We are so accustomed to these design features that we are often shocked when they are not available.

When correctly applied, these design features increase the user experience for everyone by lowering or removing barriers to access.

This concept also applies to technology. Since people interact with technology on a daily basis, we must design our websites for all users including those with visual, hearing, motor, or cognitive disabilities.

Federal Legislation and Boise State policy require accessible web content

Section 504 and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act are the key pieces of federal legislation governing accessibility. The Americans with Disabilities Act ensures individuals with disabilities are not denied the benefits of services, programs or activities of Boise State, including content on our WordPress public-facing websites.

As of 2010 census, 1 in 5 people in the United States reported having a disability. By the 2020 census, this number will likely be even higher.

In addition, Boise State policies #8140: IT Accessibility and #8040: University Webpages and Electronic Publications require University public-facing websites to comply with WCAG 2.0 AA accessibility guidelines.

Public Facing Websites Must Meet Level AA Conformance

To achieve an accessible web environment, Boise State is following version 2.0 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0).

WCAG is a set of 61 measurable standards for web accessibility developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). It has three conformance levels: A, AA, and AAA.

Boise State’s public facing web pages must comply with WCAG 2.0 Level AA.

Four Guiding Principles of WCAG 2.0 - P.O.U.R.

The WCAG 2.0 guidelines reference four main guiding principles.

  1. Perceivable refers to the fact that users read and interact with websites in different ways, often using assistive technology. This standard provides measurable ways to improve your website so users and assistive technology alike can understand the content presented using their senses, including sight, sound, and touch.
  2. Operable refers to the fact that users should be able to use all the functions of your website regardless of whether they use a keyboard and mouse or other type of assistive technology.
  3. Understandable sites have clear, simple instructions, explain complex issues, and avoid unusual, inconsistent, or unexpected functions.
  4. Robust sites follow recognized standards and conventions for the web.

To learn more about the WCAG elements see the WebAIM article Constructing a POUR Website.

Web Accessibility at Boise State

To learn even more about what web accessibility means and Boise State and how you can implement these standards into your work, review the following resources.

Creating Accessible Content

Outline Headings

Headings should act as an outline for the content on the page. Your web audience will scan the headings on a page to find out what the page is about.

It is critical to keep headings in order and not skip heading levels. Use the headings provided in the theme and don’t choose headings based on style.

Well structured headings also improve search engine optimization.

Add Accessible Images

Alternative Text

Alternative text provides information about the content and function of an image for people who cannot see the image. There are many reasons people might view your web content without images including visual impairment and low-bandwidth internet connections. Additionally, good alt text can contribute to improved search engine optimization.

Add alternative text to images using the “Alt text” field in the Attachment Details section in the WordPress Media library.

Good alt text should be concise but must provide the same information as the image it replaces.

For more information on alternative text, read WebAIM’s article on Alternative Text.

Avoid Images of Text

Do not use an image of text when you can use plain text to convey the same information.

Text in images is a bad user experience for many people including

  • People with visual impairments who need to transform or zoom text.
  • People who are translating web content into a different language.
  • People using a text-only browser.

Images of text are also more difficult to update and maintain than web content and, since search engines cannot read text in images, users may have a more difficult time finding the information.

Review complex images for accessibility

Organizational Charts

If an organizational chart must be posted on your site you will need to create an alternate text version to make it accessible. Text versions can easily be created using HTML headings and lists.

By using semantic headings on your page, along with unordered (bulleted) lists, you can represent how your department or college is organized in a way that’s accessible to everyone.

If you need assistance making an organizational chart accessible, please contact the OIT Web Accessibility team at

Data and Graphs

If your images display graphical data, you must supply a text equivalent to describe the data. The best way to do this is to include a text description on the page next to the image.


Maps can be shared on


Maps require a text alternative to be accessible.  You can either direct users to or embed the the Boise State Map as it has an accessible text version and printable PDF.

If you are including a different map, you must also include a text description on the page to explain the information presented on the map.

  • Use clear and descriptive link text in both text links and button text.
  • Avoid vague link text like “Click here” and “Read more”.
  • Ensure that links with different destinations do not have the same link text.

Use PDF documents sparingly

  • PDFs are not responsive and can be difficult to use on mobile devices.
  • PDFs are costly and time consuming to make accessible.
  • Where possible, convert PDF documents to web content, including forms.
  • If you must use a PDF, make it accessible and clearly label as a PDF.
  • PDF Accessibility Resources

Format Panels for Accessibility

The Boise State theme provides several options for creating pre-formatted content in the form of panels. Even though panels have built in accessibility features there are several things to keep in mind to ensure the accessibility of your content. For more information see our Recommendations for Accessible Panels.

Complete Accessibility Testing

Review with Siteimprove

Review Siteimprove reports and resolve any level A or AA errors identified on your site.

If you have migrated to the new theme, you may be wondering how you can monitor your pages with Siteimprove. Currently, the web team is evaluating the errors being flagged by Siteimprove to determine what is theme related vs content related.  As such, all errors have been moved from the “editor” role to the “developer” role. As we finalize our review, we will move appropriate errors back to the “editor” role.

The most important thing you can do for your content is to continue to focus on links, images, headings and not adding style to your text:

  • Links – the most common link error we’re seeing is conflicts with the global navigation. So avoid generic link text like apply, news, or about as these are all present in the global navigation. Also pay attention to the links in the footers.  In general, giving your links meaningful text descriptions will improve accessibility.
  • Images – most images on your site require a short alternative text description. This is especially true if your image is also used as a link either to the media file or another webpage. Including alternative text will ensure your images are more accessible for users.
  • Headings – most headings are handled by the new theme through panels. However, be mindful of what you are adding for headings on your page. These create an outline of your pages that help users navigate content more easily. Avoid skipping heading levels as well.  They should follow numeric order.
  • Text Styling – lastly, don’t introduce style elements to your content. Let the theme add the style, while you focus on the content.  This means leaving your text plain, and not changing the color, size, or indents manually. Also use bold and italics sparingly and do not underline any text.

Review Usability

Although Siteimprove provides automated accessibility testing, there is no substitute for testing your site to make sure it is usable.

  • Navigate your site using only a keyboard to understand how your content works without a mouse.
  • Use a browser extension like the Images ON/OFF Chrome extension or imagine your page without images to ensure the information is still available even if you cannot see the images.
  • Scan the headings and links on your site to ensure they are descriptive and properly structured.

Use Accessible Colors

In general, the color choices on the Boise State University website will be controlled by the University theme.

Third-Party Applications and Web Platforms

If you are branding, configuring or skinning a third-party application or web platform and need access to the accessible Boise State color palette please submit a ticket to the OIT Help Desk describing your proposed project.

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