Accessibility Helps All Users, Not Just the Disabled.

Accessibility ensures all users can access information, regardless of capabilities.

Digital accessibility involves designing websites and digital content that can be navigated and understood by people who use assistive technologies, such as screen readers, or who rely on keyboard navigation instead of a mouse.

In an era where education is increasingly delivered through digital platforms, ensuring that these resources are accessible is not just a legal obligation but an ethical one. The integration of 508 compliance into the higher education sector signifies a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion for all students. As technology continues to permeate the educational landscape, the relevance of 508 Compliance becomes increasingly prominent, ensuring that no student loses opportunities due to the digital divide.

Whether you’re building or updating a webpage, adding an image, uploading and linking a document or video to a website or email the content must be accessible to users with disabilities.

The goal is to ensure that these resources are equally accessible to all students, including those with visual, auditory, motor, or cognitive disabilities.

Accessible Design Benefits Everyone

Most of us encounter accessibility features originally created for people with disabilities on a daily basis. For example:

  • Closed captions or subtitles for the deaf on tv, movies and other video
  • Audio books for the blind
  • Curb cutouts and ramps for wheelchair users (and strollers)
  • Crosswalk signals than can be seen and heard
  • Voice assistants like Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant
  • Elevators

Living with a Disability in 2024

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 16% of the world's population, and 26% of the U.S. population, have a disability. That's over 1 billion people worldwide and around 86 million people in the U.S. who may be unable to access websites that are not designed with accessibility in mind.

Worldwide Disabilities

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) there are:

  • 285 Million

    People with some sort of visual impairment.

  • 275 million

    People with moderate-to-profound hearing impairment.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is Web Accessibility and Why Is It Important?

Web accessibility helps all users, not just the disabled.

Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including: auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, visual and more.

It also benefits people without disabilities, for example:

  1. people using mobile phones, smart watches, smart TVs, and other devices with small screens, different input modes, etc.
  2. older people with changing abilities due to aging
  3. people with “temporary disabilities” such as a broken arm or lost glasses
  4. people with “situational limitations” such as in bright sunlight or in a noisy environment where they cannot listen to audio
  5. people using a slow Internet connection, or who have limited or expensive bandwidth

Besides being the right thing to do it is also Federal, State, UMass System and UMass Lowell policy. You can be sued for not having an accessible website and content.

What is 508 Compliance?

Section 508 is part of a 1998 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It requires all Federal electronic and information technology to be accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and members of the public.

Its standards apply to informationand communication technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by federal agencies. This also applies to all state agencies. Massachusetts issued its most recent Enterprise Information Technology Accessibility Policy in 2021.

Check out the full Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) on the World Wide Web Consortium website.

What do 508 standards cover?

In the context of higher education, 508 compliance translates to a requirement for digital accessibility. This includes:

  • Every page on every public-facing website
  • All online courses
  • All online forms
  • All digital files, such as PDFs and more
  • Multimedia, including all images and video
  • Social Media and Blog posts
  • All internal and external emails
  • All software and applications, including mobile apps

The updated 508 Standards also specifically list the types of non-public-facing content that must comply. This includes electronic content used to communicate:

  • emergency notifications
  • initial or final decisions adjudicating administrative claims or proceedings
  • internal or external program or policy announcements
  • notices of benefits
  • program eligibility
  • employment opportunities or personnel actions
  • formal acknowledgements or receipts
  • questionnaires or surveys
  • templates or forms
  • educational or training materials
  • web-based intranets.
Do documents need to be accessible?

Yes. All documents of any kind – PDF, Word Doc, PowerPoint, Excel, etc. first need to be uploaded via a UMass Lowell Web Support ticket and checked for accessibility before they can be added to a website or sent through email.

You are liable for any document on your website or sent through email.

If possible, add content to a webpage rather than uploading it as document. These can still be saved as pdf and printed.

See our document accessibility page for more information.

How can I tell if my document is accessible?

  • Attempt to copy and paste content from PDF. If you're not able to copy the information, screen readers cannot recognize text.
  • Try to tab through your document. If created properly, the tab should take you logically through the information. If not, it's not accessible.
  • Run the accessibility checker under Tools in Adobe Acrobat Pro. UMass Lowell offers a free download of the entire Adobe Creative Cloud on the IT website.
  • Use a screen reader to test for accessibility, such as NVDA, Voiceover, Narrator, JAWS, etc. These tools are available from the Assistive Technology office.

See our document accessibility page for more information.

How Do I Get My Document Made Accessible?

All kinds of documents (not just PDFs) must first be uploaded via a UMass Lowell Web Support ticket to be checked for accessibility and or remediated before they can be uploaded and added to the UMass Lowell (UML) website or sent through email. You can try to make them accessible beforehand to expedite the process, but they still need to go through a web ticket to be checked.

  1. Log into the UMass Lowell Web Support ticket system
  2. Select remediation from the drop-down menu
  3. Enter a title and description - make sure to include:
    1. The website to which the accessible document should be uploaded
    2. Is it new or replacing an existing document?
    3. Whether you will add it yourself or whether you'd like the Digital Strategy Team to do so
      • If the latter, provide the web address for all pages you want it linked to and what text should be used for the link text. The text will need to be descriptive to be accessible (e.g., do not use "click here," etc.)
  4. Using the choose files button, upload however many documents you need to be remediated.
  5. Click the submit ticket button to finish the process.

Note: Longer and more complicated (images, tables and more) documents will take more time to be made accessible.

See our document accessibility page for more information.

How do I make an accessible document?

It's easier to create an accessible document than to remediate one. Note: Even after making your document accessible, you still need to upload it via a UMass Lowell Web Support ticket to be checked for accessibility BEFORE it can be uploaded to your website or emailed.

To make accessible documents in Microsoft Word:

  • Provide a descriptive title.
    A descriptive title tells the user what the purpose of the document is. The title should be succinct and use proper grammar and punctuation. Do not replace spaces with underscores or hyphens.
  • Use built-in headings and styles.
    On the “Home” ribbon, in the “Styles” group, select the appropriate heading (Heading 1, Heading 2, etc.). Use a logical order without skipping headings (e.g., Heading 1 first, followed by Heading 2, etc.). Typically, there should only be one Heading 1 in the document.
  • Include alternative text with all visuals.
    Alternative text provides textual information for visual elements (pictures, illustrations, images of text, shapes, charts, etc.) There are two ways to apply alternate text in Word: Use the Description field in the Alt Text field; OR provide information about the content or function of the image in the surrounding text. Learn how to write good alt-text (and more) on our image accessibility page.
  • Add meaningful hyperlink text and ScreenTips.
    Screen readers will read the displayed hyperlink text aloud. Therefore, it is important to hyperlink meaningful words within the text, such as "Apply online now" or "Learn more about the program" (NOT, Click Here!).
  • Ensure that color is not the only means of conveying information.
    Visually impaired and/or colorblind readers might miss essential information that is solely a different color, such as red. Use asterisk (*) or other denotation along with or instead of color.
  • Use sufficient contrast for text and background colors.
    Visually impaired and/or colorblind readers might miss essential information presented without the proper contrast.
  • Use standard fonts, font sizing and paragraph spacing.
    The key to written communication is to convey information cleanly and efficiently. Limit the use of italics, all capital letters and font color or shape to convey information. Don't use blinking or moving text.
  • Use proper bullet and number formatting.
    Screen readers can best read information that is organized and formatted correctly.
  • Use a simple table structure, and specify column header information.
    Avoid using tables for layout purposes. Use only uniform tables for data.

See our accessible documents page for more information.

How do I get my document remediated?

If for usability or legality purposes a document must be posted to the website and it has not been created accessibly, the Web Services team can help remediate the issue.

  • When possible, provide the native (original) file in the program in which it was created.
  • Provide alt-tags (descriptions) for all visual elements within the document.
  • Confirm all hyperlinks embedded within the document are correct by clicking on them.

Once you have gathered all the appropriate material, please upload via a UMass Lowell Web Support ticket.

What are my options other than document remediation?

Many documents and other PDF files posted to the website are unnecessary or duplicate information. If that information is included as text on a web page, search engines will find the content more easily and it is more readable on mobile devices. In addition, web visitors can save any page on the UMass Lowell website as a PDF by simply printing the page and choosing PDF as the destination (rather than a physical printer).

Given the time involved in making documents accessible, Web Services has established the following guidelines:

  • PDFs of print brochures or posters will not be posted on the website; do not assume that print materials produced by University Relations are compliant
  • Only the four most recent electronic newsletters will be posted
  • Degree pathways should be made into a webpage in the university Catalog
  • Department or program handbooks should be converted into web pages
  • Link to documents required by government agencies (such as I-9s)
  • Tutorials or job aids will be converted to web pages
  • Most printable forms (.doc, .docx, PDF) can be converted to web forms
What is alt-text?

"Alt-Text" is short for "alternative text" and is sometimes referred to as an "alt-tag". It is a short text description of an image that is used when the image itself cannot be viewed.

Adding alt-text makes images accessible to users with visual impairments and other disabilities. When a screen reader comes across an image, it reads the alt-text aloud. Users with sight-related disabilities rely on these descriptions to understand the meaning and context of all images on a webpage.

Alt text is the responsibility of web maintainers for each website. Alt text should be no longer than 140 characters (including spaces and punctuation) and must include all text on an image.

Other Benefits of Alt-text

  • For those with poor Internet or similar issues, alt text will be displayed instead of the image when a page doesn't completely load.
  • Search engines like Google, scan alt text so having good alt-text is a way to better your search engine results

Get help writing alt-text (and more) on our accessible images page.

Do videos need to be captioned?

Yes. Section 508 requires all users, regardless of disability, to have a comparable experience from all media, including videos. For a video to be accessible to a viewer, the person watching it must be able to understand what is happening in both the visual and audio portions of the video.

Accessible videos have three main elements:

  1. Captions: The audio parts of your video appear as text at the appropriate time and give access to people who are hearing impaired or deaf.
  2. An audio description: A description of a video’s visual elements, gives access to people who are blind or visually impaired.
  3. A 508-compliant video player: Ensures a person who requires keyboard navigation or an assistive device can navigate the window where the video plays (that is, the video player). UMass Lowell uses Brightcove and Ensemble as its video players. Be advised that YouTube video is not 508 compliant.

All videos posted on the UMass Lowell website (including course materials), regardless of origin, need to comply with these standards. The university has two ways to caption non-compliant videos depending on the video's length and purpose:

  • If the video is less than five minutes long and is being used for promotional or marketing purposes, please upload it via a UMass Lowell Web Support ticket and include the original video file.
  • If the video is longer than five minutes or used in course materials or for informational purposes (e.g., lecture, panel), please contact Information Technology (IT) by submitting an I.T. help ticket.

Get more information on our video accessibility page.