Website Accessibility

Note that this section specifically covers website accessibility. For more information about accessibility in a broader context, check out our Accessibility and Accommodations page.

Why does website accessibility matter?

Your institution should practice inclusive design on your website for three key reasons. Not only is it the right thing to do, but your organization may also need to comply with legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act or Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Both of these U.S. laws mandate accessibility, including on your website. On top of these factors, building an accessible website will make it easier for everyone to use, which means more people can learn about your institution.

SpurIT lays out why website accessibility matters: it broadens your organization’s audience, it is the ethical thing to do, and it can prevent unwanted legal challenges.

The principles of website accessibility, a page run by the U.S. Government, offers a handy primer on digital accessibility, why it’s important, and how you can implement inclusive design in your website. The UK government, meanwhile, has put together posters on designing websites for specific disabilities. Their detail makes them essential for any organization building a website.

The World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C WAI) is the leader in digital accessibility, and their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) is the most important source for improving your site’s digital accessibility. The WCAG lays out Four Principles of Website Accessibility, known by the mnemonic POUR. According to these principles, your website should be:

  • Perceivable: Make content “presentable to users in ways they can perceive.” It is the most important principle, because users need to perceive objects to do anything with them.
  • Operable: Make the website easy to use and navigate.
  • Understandable: Make things clear and concise. Remove jargon.
  • Robust: Make the content accessible across all platforms, and account for assistive technologies like screen readers.

Ashleigh Lodge’s 2019 TEDxWinnipeg talk summarizes these points, providing some insightful examples. Her video serves as a good introduction to the topic and to how your institution can make its website accessible.

Digital accessibility within the museum

Remember that your organization should also apply these principles to digital offerings within the museum. This includes captioning for videos shown as part of an exhibit and audio descriptions for static images. A blog post by MuseumNext sheds light on how BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) can help facilitate accessibility. Such a policy can make digital accessibility in the building itself simple, since patrons’ personal devices will already include any accessibility elements they need. Cheryl Fogle-Hatch has also examined BYOD’s potential for improving accessibility, suggesting that a system of QR codes can increase visitor independence and protect user privacy.

For more on how you can use digital devices within the physical museum, check out our page on digitally enhancing the visitor experience.

Getting started with website accessibility

Though making your institution’s website accessible may seem daunting, there are plenty of online resources to help you get started. Sustaining Places has collected some general Website Accessibility Resources, as well as some specific points to consider when making Accessible Images and Videos.