Web Accessibility FAQs
The University is committed to supporting information technology that provides individuals with disabilities an opportunity to participate in University programs, benefits, and services that is equal to that of their peers without disabilities. The Website Accessibility Policy sets forth the actions that the University must take to meet this commitment. The University’s commitment to website accessibility is grounded in principles of equity and inclusion and with the knowledge that website accessibility can enhance usability and academic experience for everyone.
The Policy applies to staff, faculty, and students who procure, design, develop, modify, and maintain University websites used in the programs and activities of the University. All Site Owners must comply with the Policy. Faculty, staff, and students who manage non-University websites are encouraged to comply with the Policy.
Site Owners are any staff, faculty, or student, or any vendor engaged by the University, who maintains a University website used in the programs or activities of the University.
University websites are any website or web-based application within the Columbia University (columbia.edu) domain or hosted by the University used in the programs or activities of the University. University websites do not include sites that are independent of the University (including sites that are linked to from the University websites), do not provide University programs, services or activities, or are used solely by employees.
The Policy applies to University Websites, which includes any website or web-based application within the Columbia University (columbia.edu) domain or hosted by the University used in the programs or activities of the University. University websites do not include sites that are independent of the University (including sites that are linked to from the University websites), do not provide University programs, services or activities, or are used solely by employees. Non-University websites that are managed by faculty, staff, and students are encouraged to comply with the Policy.
If you are not sure whether your site falls under the policy, email webaccessibility.columbia.edu for help.
Accessibility is the degree to which individuals with disabilities have independent and timely access to and use of websites or web-based applications, in some instances with the help of assistive technologies. When accessible, a website or web-based application can be easily navigated and understood by a wide range of users, including those users who have visual, auditory, motor or cognitive disabilities.
The University uses the WCAG 2.0 AA, adopted by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium, as the technical standard to meet accessibility.
Website accessibility guidelines are based on four core principles. If any of these are not available on your website, users with disabilities will not be able to experience your content and the site is not accessible.
- Perceivable: Users need to be able to identify content and engage with the website interface by means of the senses. For many users, this means perceiving the system primarily visually but using a combination of senses; others may perceive the system by sound or touch.
- Operable: Visitors to a site need to successfully use controls, buttons, navigation, and other necessary interactive elements. For many users, this means visually identifying an interface control, then clicking, tapping, or swiping. Other users may operate and control the interface using a keyboard or voice commands.
- Understandable: Understandable technology has a consistent presentation and format, uses predictable design and functionality, is multimodal, and employs a voice and tone appropriate to its audiences. Users should be able to comprehend the content, and learn and remember how to use the interface.
- Robust: Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. Robust information technology is standards-compliant and designed to function on all appropriate technologies. Users should be able to choose the technology they use to interact with websites, online documents, multimedia, and other information formats.
Read more about the importance of website accessibility at www.w3.org/WAI/people-use-web.
The Policy applies to new or substantially revised content as well as existing content as follows:
New or substantially revised content. All content that is created or undergoes substantial revision after the effective date of the Policy is required to conform to the Accessibility Standard. In addition, Site Owners who manage University websites that are maintained, upgraded, or updated by vendors are required to ensure that the vendor-provided design, code, and content meet the Accessibility Standard when the contract is entered into or renewed.
Existing content. Existing content that does not meet the Accessibility Standard must be brought into compliance over time through a process overseen by the Accessibility Committee. As part of this process, the Accessibility Committee will prioritize important institutional University websites and those that are most highly trafficked. Site Owners must follow the requirements and deadlines of the Accessibility Committee regarding this process.
There are several ways to evaluate a website or web-based application for accessibility, namely, automatic scanning, manual checklists, and expert reviews. A combination of these methods allows for a thorough assessment as well as checks and balances. CUIT can assist with accessibility testing and connect you with vendors that provide expert accessibility evaluation services. Email [email protected] for help.
Because it is often difficult or impossible to add accessibility to a website or application after it has already been designed or built, it is essential to incorporate accessibility from the beginning of the creation or redesign process, including at the time you contract for a vendor’s services. Your contract with any outside vendor must include the vendor’s obligation to ensure that the content is WCAG 2.0 AA compliant and that the vendor will comply with the Policy. Contact the Columbia Office of Procurement Services if you need assistance negotiating the contract.
Creating and maintaining accessible websites and web-based applications will necessarily include costs for services and tools for web development, design, content creation, testing, and remediation. Consideration of the costs early in the development or procurement process will help website and web-based application owners plan appropriate budgets. For help thinking through the financial impact of making your site or application accessible, email [email protected].
Any content, including documents and media, displayed on or embedded in a University website must be accessible. To learn more about creating accessible content, read our accessibility content guidelines.
All new audio and video added to a website or application should have transcripts and/or captions. Transcriptions and captioning of audio and video files should be part of a normal content production process. Text versions of multimedia are the only way some users can access content, and they are tremendously beneficial for most users. Read the guidelines for creating accessible audio and video content, and reach out to the User Experience Community of Practice for further assistance. If you need help captioning older videos, email [email protected].
The Columbia Sites platform is WCAG 2.0 AA-compliant; if your website is built on this platform, your basic site meets the standard. To ensure that your content also meets the standard, check out our comprehensive guide to creating accessible content. There you’ll find instructions on how to make accessible audio, video, writing, images, and documents, as well as a training video that covers all of the basic ways to make your content accessible. Additional training is available through the University subscription to LinkedIn Learning. Email [email protected] if you have questions about the content guidelines.
It is possible that some content cannot be made accessible. When meeting the Accessibility Standard is not technically feasible or would require extraordinary measures due to the nature of the information or the purpose of the website or application (i.e., it would create an undue burden by fundamentally altering the nature of the existing content), you can request an exception from the Accessibility Committee by emailing [email protected]. Insufficient funds of a particular unit will not be considered a valid reason for an exception except in extraordinary circumstances. Exception requests may only be approved by the Accessibility Committee.