WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

8-Step Implementation Model
Step 4: Define a Standard


The WebAIM Strategic Accessibility Framework provides a more comprehensive model for implementing digital accessibility than is provided in this article. This article is maintained here for archival purposes.

Do You Need a Formal Web Accessibility Standard?

Your first reaction may be to answer "yes," and perhaps this is indeed the case. Take a moment, though to think about the policies and laws under which your organization is already operating. A US Federal Government agency may decide that it does not need to write another policy about web accessibility just for their agency. After all, Section 508 already spells out the minimum accessibility requirements that they must adhere to. Perhaps the agency can bypass the step of creating a policy and go straight to the task of deciding how to implement it.

Postsecondary institutions in the United States find themselves in a similar situation. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act already requires that they not discriminate against students with disabilities. Also, some US states have decreed that their state will adhere to the Section 508 guidelines, which could mean that all state entities, including state colleges and universities, are required to adhere to these standards as well.

On the other hand, it may be useful for an organization to adopt a formal policy statement as proof of their commitment.

It is not a decision to take lightly, and it is important to ensure that the committee seeks input from all relevant areas of the organization. Even if you think that your organization may not need a formal policy, you may find the ideas in this workshop to be useful in your situation.

Defining Web Accessibility

If, as a committee, you have decided that your organization needs a formal web accessibility policy, then it is time to draft the policy as a committee. There are 2 important components to the overall web accessibility policy. The first is the organization's definition of web accessibility--the standard against which to judge the accessibility of the organization's web content. Second is the implementation plan. Taken together, they form the complete policy. What follows is a description of the accessibility standard. Descriptions of the implementation plan will be discussed in a subsequent workshop.

One of the first responsibilities of the Web Accessibility Committee will be to draft a document that will be used to define what is meant by the phrase "web accessibility." Different individuals might define this in different ways. The importance of a clearly defined web accessibility policy cannot be overstated. This standard will enable everyone to understand the level of accessibility your organization will employ. It will also act as a planning guide for developers; they will know precisely what elements they must include in their design to meet the standard. Furthermore, this standard will serve as the template in any future monitoring effort. Determine then that the first task of this group is to develop the "specifications" of a web accessibility definition for the institution.


Perhaps the most difficult part of creating the web policy can be deciding on a standard. As you peruse the materials listed above, consider the following questions:

  • What is your definition of web accessibility?
  • What level of standards does the government hold?
  • What level of standards do other institutions choose?
  • What standards are feasible for your institution?
  • What special features might you add to your standard, that you did not see at other institutions?

Composing a Detailed Accessibility Standard

It is important to make sure you compose a detailed accessibility standard. It does little good to announce that your organization will be "ADA compliant" (the Americans with Disabilities Act does not explicitly specify any web standards) or that "We will insure all our pages are accessible to people with disabilities." Ask yourself, what does this mean? Would others in the organization interpret this statement in the same way? If you were a web developer would you know if you had created a document that followed the organization's policy? If you were monitoring the accessibility progress of this organization, would you know how they are doing? In order to help those that will work with the policy you must first define the standard by which all will comply. Provided below are resources you can consult in forming your own standard. These are 3 sources that will provide you with detailed descriptions of web accessibility standards and guidelines. Remember that these guidelines are provided as models and references for you. There are no hard and fast rules to setting a standard and there is no right answer. But you must make sure the standard you choose, or create, suits your organization.

Existing Standards

WCAG 2.0

The most universally-recognized standard of accessibility is found in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Web Consortium (W3C). Success criteria of these guidelines have been organized into three levels. Level A guidelines are a minimum standard. Level AA guidelines increase the accessibility of web content so that it is not only available but more easily usable. Level AAA guidelines increase both the accessibility and usability of web content even further for some users.


WebAIM has generated a WCAG 2.0 Checklist that may be useful in evaluating and implementing these guidelines.

View the WCAG 2.0 Checklist

Because of the credibility and international scope of the W3C, the WCAG guidelines have served as a basis for many organizations in setting standards for web accessibility. Nevertheless, the WCAG guidelines, as they are currently written, may not necessarily fulfill all of the policy-setting needs of all organizations. It may be beneficial for some organizations to include in their standard other principles of web accessibility, which WCAG has not enumerated. For example, WCAG does not mention the timeliness of accessible content as one of their guidelines. In the case of online courses, it is important the online syllabi be made accessible to students with disabilities at the same time that they are made available to other students, to avoid disadvantaging the students with disabilities. Institutions may find other important considerations which the WCAG guidelines do not address.

Full text of WCAG 2.0

Country-specific standards

Many countries have adopted WCAG 2.0 as their official standard. Others, such as the United States, have chosen to write their own standard. Entities which are required by law to abide by these country-specific standards would be foolish to ignore them, but sometimes these standards are insufficient. The Section 508 guidelines, for example, do not include any guidelines that would specifically help people with cognitive disabilities or learning disabilities. Whole segments of the population are excluded from this standard.

To make up for this, and other, deficiencies, an organization could choose to adopt both the 508 standard and, say, Levels A and AA of WCAG 2.0. There will be some overlap between these two sets of standards since the writers of the Section 508 standard drew heavily on WCAG 1.0 during the writing process. To reduce confusion, the organization could publish a single checklist that represents a combination of both of these sets of standards.


WebAIM has generated a Section 508 Checklist that may be useful in evaluating and implementing these guidelines.

View the Section 508 Checklist

More information about Section 508 can be found at www.section508.gov.

Review and Revision of Your Accessibility Standard

Once you have a draft of an institutional standard for web accessibility, it is important that the initial draft of the accessibility standard be sent out for review by others at your institution. Including others in open dialogue will improve the likelihood of adoption and successful implementation of the standard. Institutional ownership that results from this feedback step is often a key to standard success. We would recommend the draft be seen by the groups who have representation on the committee, as well as those who will responsible for implementing it (i.e. designers and faculty). Finally, Committee members should assume the draft will be reworked after it has gone out for review, rather than assume that it will receive widespread approval. Most importantly, the members of the Accessibility Committee should insure that all feedback is strongly considered in any reworking of the draft for production of the final policy.

Remember to make sure that everyone has had an opportunity to review the initial definition! Have all member of the committee and all concerned parties had the opportunity to provide feedback? More importantly, has this feedback been taken seriously?

Announcing Your Policy

Here are a few ideas of ways to make your policy known, both internally and to the public:

  • Provide a web accessibility overview which presents the reasons your institution wants to create an accessible web site and the regulations you will follow.
  • List what is included in your accessibility policy. More specifically include web based information and services, hardware or software to be developed, purchased, or acquired by the University, environments specific to information technology, and what is exempt from the policy.
  • Consider a handy comparison chart between the University policy, Section 508 and the W3C guidelines or other guidelines employed in the creation of your standard.
  • Consider posting a list of your standards, as well as providing more detailed links to exactly how the standards may be interpreted, and in what contexts they do and do not apply.
  • When revising your policy or standards, include proposed drafts on your web site so that others from within your institution may access it and provide feedback. When the drafts are complete, post the final product.
  • Design a brochure or pamphlet outlining your policy. Have them readily available. Distribute them during training and provide them for your students and for the public.
  • Make sure to include your university standards in any web training you create. It is imperative for employees to know what is expected in regards to accessibility.