Web Accessibility

The practice of accessible web development/design benefits people with disabilities as well as others, including: older persons, persons in rural areas, and persons in developing countries. It also overlaps with other best practices such as mobile web design, device independence, usability and search engine optimization (SEO). Case studies show that accessible websites have better search results, reduced maintenance costs and increased audience reach. An accessible website provides a better user experience, regardless of device, language, culture, location, or physical or mental ability.

Cornell is committed to diversity and inclusiveness, with the goal of providing an accessible, usable and welcoming environment to all. Accessibility should be an integral part of any web project, and all web content should conform to W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.

When developing a website, consider the following:

Cognitive Disabilities

Users with cognitive disabilities may have conditions affecting reading comprehension, learning disabilities, attention and distraction disorders, memory-related conditions, or have difficulty processing information presented mathematically or graphically.

We recommend that you assess the general usability and comprehensibility — clarity in presentation and logical and spacial organization — of web resources. Ensuring correct grammar and spelling and reducing verbal complexity will have a positive impact for users with certain cognitive disabilities, as well.


Users who are colorblind or have color weaknesses are unable to distinguish between certain colors or shades. They are unable to determine meaning when content or meaning is conveyed solely by color differentiations.

We recommend functionality or meaning not be conveyed solely by color differences. If possible, evaluate web resources with special programs that emulate various types of color-blindness.

Deaf/Hard of Hearing

These users rely on transcripts or captioning of video and audio content. Additionally, they require an alternative to audio cuing.

We recommend you provide a transcript and/or captioning for video content, and a transcript for audio content. If your video content is housed on CornellCast, you can request that it be closed-captioned by University Communications. All video featured on the Cornell homepage must be closed-captioned.

Motor Disabilities

Users with motor disabilities may have difficulties using the mouse due to injury, nerve conditions, or disease. This can affect response times and accuracy in selecting navigation items or using forms. Some of these users navigate the web via the keyboard, using the tab keys to move around pages, while others may use speech recognition software.

We recommend developers test navigation items, forms, and other control elements to be sure that they are operable via the keyboard alone. Additionally, timed actions should have the option to extend the allotted response period. If available, testing pages with speech recognition software such as Dragon is also recommended.

Visual Disabilities

Many of these users access the web via screen readers—programs that access the code base for the page and read content aloud. Screen readers also look for tagged descriptions of images on the page in order to best describe content. Readers allow for interaction with the page and let users skip between groups of content by recognizing coding tags such as link, headings, form elements, and more. Without these tags in the code, a logical structure to the code and content, and descriptions of images and objects, a screen reader cannot logically present the page to a visually impaired user. Some uses of JavaScript and plug-ins can be inaccessible to screen readers, as well.

We strongly recommend that all web pages be tested with a screen reader on multiple platforms, including mobile devices. Visually impaired users also enlarge the screen fonts, either by using the browser’s zoom or text scaling functions, or by using screen magnification programs. These users may also set their operating system to a “high-contrast” mode or use custom style sheets to increase the contrast between foreground and background. We recommend testing all pages with high contrast mode enabled and also using a screen magnifier to make sure content is legible and logical when zoomed in.