University of Wisconsin–Madison

What is accessible technology?

1 minute to read | Last updated November 20, 2020

Just as with the design of any website, you should consider your users. People who interact with technology are extraordinarily diverse, with a wide variety of characteristics and contexts. It cannot be assumed that everyone is using a traditional monitor, browser, or keyboard. Accessible technology has been designed in a way that can be accessed by all users.

What is web accessibility?

People who use the web have a growing variety of characteristics. Consider these user characteristics:

  • Unable to see:  Individuals who are blind use either audible output (products called screen readers that read web content using synthesized speech) or tactile output (a refreshable Braille device). For reading the printed page, people who are blind use scanners with optical character recognition (OCR) that can read printed material and store it electronically to be read by a screen reader. Some videos may need to include an Audio Description to describe any actions not described by the narrators or speakers in the video.
  • Is colorblind: Individuals with colorblindness have difficulty seeing the contrast between background and foreground colors and may be unable to see certain colors or color combinations especially if color alone is used to convey information.
  • Has a cognitive or learning disability: Individuals with learning disabilities such as dyslexia may also use audible output, along with software that highlights words or phrases as they’re read aloud using synthesized speech.
  • Has low vision: Individuals with low vision may use screen magnification software that allows them to zoom into all or a portion of the visual screen. Large monitors and anti-glare screens, color and contrast adjustments, speech output systems and scanners with optical character recognition are also used to navigate web and print media. Many others with less-than-perfect eyesight may enlarge the font on websites using standard browser functions, such as Ctrl + in Windows browsers or Command + in Mac browsers.
  • Has a physical disability: Individuals with physical disabilities that affect their use of hands may be unable to use a mouse, and instead may rely exclusively on keyboard or use assistive technologies such as speech recognition, head pointers, mouth sticks, or eye-gaze tracking systems.
  • Unable to hear: Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing are unable to access audio content, so video needs to be captioned and audio needs be transcribed. 
  • Using a mobile device: Individuals who are accessing the web using a compact mobile device such as a phone face accessibility barriers, just like individuals with disabilities do. They’re using a small screen and may need to zoom in or increase the font size, and they are likely to be using a touch interface rather than a mouse.
  • Limited bandwidth: Individuals may be on slow Internet connections if they’re located in a rural area or lack the financial resources to access high-speed Internet. These users benefit from pages that load quickly and transcripts for video.

The W3C summarizes web accessibility nicely in their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0:

  • Web content must be perceivable
  • Web content must be operable
  • Web content must be understandable
  • Web content must be robust

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Credit: Much of the content in this and other guides in the accessibility series was provided by the University of Washington’s terrific Accessible Technology website.