Personal Development

Accessibility Standards

A number of groups and international associations have established accessibility standards that impact the development and deployment of online learning.


In 1999, the Web Accessibility Initiative, a project by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), published the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG 1.0 and then, in 2008, updated them with WCAG 2.0.

WCAG 2.0 guidelines have been widely accepted as the current definitive standards on how to create accessible websites. Governments are steadily adopting the WCAG 2.0 as the accessibility standard for their own websites.

Since online learning is primarily delivered via the Web, the WCAG 2.0 guidelines are a basic starting point for instructional designers and course developers.

Twelve reference guidelines for web-based information from the WCAG 2.0 are:

  1. Text Alternatives: Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, Braille, speech, symbols, or simpler language.
  2. Time-based Media: Provide alternatives for time-based media.
  3. Adaptable: Create content that can be presented in different ways (for example simpler layout) without losing information or structure.
  4. Distinguishable: Make it easier for users to see and hear content, including separating foreground from background.
  5. Keyboard Accessible: Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
  6. Enough Time: Provide users enough time to read and use content.
  7. Seizures: Do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures.
  8. Navigable: Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.
  9. Readable: Make text content readable and understandable.
  10. Predictable: Make Web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
  11. Input Assistance: Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
  12. Compatible: Maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.

The WCAG 2.0 guidelines are classified in a hierarchy according to their accessibility at three different levels: A, AA and AAA, with priorities low (or priority 1), middle (or priority 2) and high (or priority 3), respectively.

  • Level of Accessibility A: indicates the Priority 1 success criteria required to be fulfilled. Web developers must satisfy these requirements, otherwise it will be impossible for one or more groups to access the Web content.
  • Level of Accessibility AA: indicates the Priority 2 success criteria. Web developers should satisfy these requirements, otherwise some groups will find it difficult to access the Web content.
  • Level of Accessibility AAA: indicates the Priority 3 success criteria. Web developers may satisfy these requirements, in order to make it easier for some groups to access the Web content.

Many organizations have a goal of achieving AAA status for their Web pages, although it is not possible to satisfy all Level AAA success criteria for some content.


The International Standards Organization first published standards for “Individualized adaptability and accessibility in e-learning, education, and training” (ISO/IEC 24751) in 2008, and then reviewed them in 2013.

According to the organization, ISO/IEC 24751 is “intended to meet the needs of learners with disabilities and anyone in a disabling context. ISO/IEC 24751-1:2008 provides a common framework to describe and specify learner needs and preferences on the one hand and the corresponding description of the digital learning resources on the other hand, so that individual learner preferences and needs can be matched with the appropriate user interface tools and digital learning resources.”

National Center on Accessible Educational Materials: Checklist

The National Center on Accessible Educational Materials has created a checklist for “publishers and developers who are looking to create learning materials that are usable by the widest possible range of users.”

Users will be able to recognize and differentiate all aspects of the content (Perceivable)

  • Content is presented in a flexible format that allows for customization/personalization
  • Presentation of content can be customized/personalized based on user needs and preferences
  • Non-text elements have alternate text
  • Multimedia can be accessed through multiple modalities

Users will be able to effectively use and interact with the content (Operable)

  • Location supports provide non-visual ways to navigate, search, and determine progress
  • Alternative forms of navigation are possible
  • Time does not interfere with use of the content
  • Interactive elements are accessible
  • Presentation does not cause seizures

Users will be able to understand the content (Understandable)

  • Logical, predictable, and coherent progression and organization
  • All content is well structured and appropriate
  • Supports and scaffolds are available for difficult or unfamiliar content
  • Auditory and visual feedback is provided

Users will not be limited in how they access the content and supporting materials (Robust)

  • Compatible with current and future tools, assistive technologies (AT), and platforms
  • All supporting materials comply with accessibility standards and best practices
  • Accurate and robust metadata is included
  • Products are tested to ensure accessibility

The National Center is part of CAST Inc., the Center for Applied Special Technology, a nonprofit, educational organization working to expand educational opportunities for all, including individuals with disabilities, through technology.

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Review Checkpoint

To test your understanding of the content presented

1. True or False?

Despite the complexity of the topic, there is widespread agreement about the best way to develop accessible websites.Choose only one answer below.

a. True

Correct. The WCAG 2.0 guidelines are widely accepted as the definitive standards for creating accessible websites.

b. False

2. True or False?

The National Center for Accessible Educational Materials Checklist focuses mainly on the need to make sure that users can easily interact with the content of learning materials.Choose only one answer below.

a. True

b. False

Correct. This statement is false. The Checklist spells out four keys areas of concern: making sure that learning materials are perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

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