Accessibility Guidelines

Web accessibility is the practice of removing barriers that prevent access to and interaction with websites by people with disabilities.

When creating content on the Barnard site, there are general best practices to follow and tools to use within the content management system (CMS) to facilitate accessibility.

Disabilities include

  • visual impairment
  • physical inability to use mouse or keyboard
  • hearing impairment
  • cognitive disabilities that prevent comprehension, e.g., dyslexia

Following the guidelines and using the tools ensure that users using screen magnifiers, screen readers or alternative input devices can "read" the content, discern links and navigate through a page or form.

To learn more about how different conditions affect use of a website, view the short video vignettes produced by W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative.

For more information on guidelines, please visit the WCAG page.


Keeping content accessible:



Image alternative text, also known as an alt tag, is a description of an image which is read aloud to visually impaired users on a screen reader. Adding alternative text allows authors to include images, but still provide the content in an alternative text based format.

It’s important to not only provide alternative text, but also provide text that is useful in the context of the document.

For example:

Instead of the broken image icon, it would provide a few words that describe the image

  • There are two easy ways to add alt text within the CMS
  • Alternative text should be short and simple to describe an image
  • Do not begin text with "image of" or "graph of"

How to add alternative text to images:


  • When adding an image via an image field (using the Select media button), there will be a field for “Alternative text” after uploading.
  • Or if the image is already uploaded, select Edit image, add the text and save


  1. Once the image has been added via the media module tool, select the image, and click ‘image’ button in the toolbar

  2. Enter description in the Alternative Text box just below the URL


Headings & Subheadings

Visual readers are able to identify headers by scanning pages for text of a larger size or a different color/font face. Users on a screen reader are not able to see these visual changes, so increasing the font size is not a sufficient cue. For this reason, the content editor does not offer the option to change font size. Instead, the headings must be used so that a screen reader can both identify headings and read those as a table of contents (see image below).

    Adding headings:

    1. Click the cursor into the line of text that should be a header
    2. In the toolbar, select Normal
    3. Select the type of heading starting from Heading 2


    • Use Heading 2 tags for top level content headings
      (Heading 1  is reserved for page titles)
    • Use Heading 3 and Heading 4 tags for sub-headings
    • Use them consistently as one would in a document outline


    The purpose of a table is to present data in a grid to allow people to understand the meaning of information by visually scanning the table. Someone who cannot see the table will not be able to make these visual associations, and so proper markup must be used when creating the table. When the proper markup is in place, users of screen readers can navigate through data tables one cell at a time, and they will hear the column and row headers spoken to them.

    To create an accessible table:

    Add Table Caption & Summary
    • The caption is a table identifier and acts like a title or heading for the table. It is displayed on the page.
    • The summary indicates the content of the table and of how data has been organized into a table or a brief explanation of how to navigate the table. The summary is hidden from the display.
    • The summary attribute should be used whether or not the table includes a caption element.
    Use Row and/or Column Headers
    • These two elements are used so that people know the relationship between the cells, most importantly the connections between headers and their rows of data cells

    How to add caption and summary:

    1. Select the table tool in the toolbar

      Or right-click on the table in the WYSIWYG (like you would in Word) and select Table properties from the pop-up menu and skip to #4
    2. Set the table settings as described in Editing a page
    3. Set whether headers are in the first row, first column or both
    4. Enter the Caption in the caption field (visible to all - serves as a title for the table)
    5. Enter the Summary in the summary field (hidden from display)

    Simple Tables vs. Complex Tables

    A simple table here means that there is a maximum of one header row and/or one header column. In addition, there are no merged cells within a simple table. Below are examples of simple and complex tables. Because screen readers present information linearly (i.e. table cell by table cell), it is encouraged to only use simple tables.

    The following is an example between the difference between a simple and complex table. The simple table shows a table caption, "Top 2008 Presidential Candidates by Party...", and uses table header in the first row, "Democratic" and "Republican".

    Top 2008 Presidential Candidates by Party
    (num) = Party Delegate Count

    Democratic Republican
    1. Barack Obama (1828.5) 1. John McCain (1575)
    2. Hillary Rodham Clinton (1726.5) 2. Micke Huckabee (278)
    3. John Edwrds (4.5) 3. Mitt Romney (271)


    By contrast, the table below uses merged cells, doesn't designate column headers, doesn't have a caption or summary or even a heading format for the table label. Notice that the website's table styles also don't work well with complex tables.

    Top Presidential Candidates 2008
    Democratic Republican
    Name Del Name Del Name Del Name Del Name Del Name Del
    Barack Obama 1828.5 Hillary Rodham Clinton 1726.5 John Edwards 4.5 John McCain 1575 Mike Huckabee 278 John Edwards 271




    • Avoid spanned cells and multiple levels of header cells.
    • Do not merge cells: Even with headers properly marked, a screen reader could find it difficult to determine which cell to read.
    • To avoid the above, split complex tables into multiple simple tables or reorganize data, taking advantage of captions and header options
    • Do not use tables for page layout



    Forms need to be designed in a logical, consistent way so that if the information is read by a screen reader, the user is receiving the information in a logical way. Barnard's CMS employs accessibility-friendly markup and structure behind the scenes, so there is not much more that content managers need to do when building a webform besides fill out the required information

    There are two important components of webforms that should be included to improve accessibility:
    1. Labels, which are required via the CMS. Screen readers will announce the form label when the cursor is moved to the corresponding form field.

    2. Fieldsets, which aren't required, but are easy to create. Fieldsets group related sections of forms both visually and semantically which is helpful to all of our users. 

    See this page for more detailed instructions on building Webforms »


    • Keep label names simple yet accurate, e.g., full name vs. name
    • Do not repeat any label names
    • Group related information, e.g. address data, into a fieldset



    Helping users understand the destination or purpose of links is an important step towards increasing the usability and accessibility of a document.

    Examples of unclear links:
    Examples of useful links:


    • Write links that make sense out of context instead of using generic phrases like “click here”
    • Make sure the link is not only one word but also includes action words such as 'Watch' or 'Register'

    See Editing a page for details on creating links »