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Effective January 1: New University Web Accessibility Standard

The W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG), level AA, now serve as Web accessibility standards for the University of Minnesota.

The University of Minnesota has joined other institutions, businesses, and governments throughout the world in adopting the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C), Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) in order to help make the Web inclusive.

WCAG is the definitive technical reference gathering together information on Web accessibility. These are basically the rules to make Web content more accessible to people with disabilities. The core of WCAG 2.0 is a normative document, which contains Principles, Guidelines, and Success Criteria. A suite of supporting documents provides important information in understanding and implementing WCAG 2.0. Together they detail most of the things that Web designers, developers, and authors need to do to make Web sites and applications accessible. The University of Minnesota Accessibility Standards Web site provides an implementation timeline. David MacDonald, a long time WCAG Working Group member, created a song that introduces WCAG 2.0.


WCAG 2.0 is organized around four basic principles necessary for anyone to access and use Web content. They are:

  1. Perceivable - Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
    • This means that users must be able to perceive the information being presented (it can't be invisible to all of their senses)
  2. Operable - User interface components and navigation must be operable.
    • This means that users must be able to operate the interface (the interface cannot require interaction that a user cannot perform)
  3. Understandable - Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
    • This means that users must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface (the content or operation cannot be beyond their understanding)
  4. Robust
    • This means that users must be able to access the content as technologies advance (as technologies and user agents evolve, the content should remain accessible)

If any of these are not true, users with disabilities will not be able to use the Web.


Within these four Principles are 12 Guidelines.

Success Criteria

Each Guideline contains a number of Success Criteria, which are testable statements that are not technology-specific. When these criteria are met, a Web site is conformant with WCAG. Typically success criterion needs to be considered under most guidelines, as they cover different areas of Web accessibility. However, it is likely that while some of the success criteria will be applicable to a site under most guidelines, still, many of the success criteria will not apply.

Level of Conformance

All together, there are 61 Success Criteria and each criterion is given one of three levels of conformance: A, AA, or AAA. As previously stated level AA is the University of Minnesota Standard. If a Web site conforms to Level AA, it means that it will be accessible for most people, under most circumstances.

Supporting Suite of Documents

The normative WCAG 2.0 document is supported by an extensive set of informative documents.

Most people will use supporting documents when developing Web content. But depending on your Web site, much of the documentation may not be applicable. Taken as a whole, the documentation might seem somewhat overwhelming. However, to suggest that anyone has to read the whole set of documents to use it is a fallacy. One or two of the following documents will likely fit most needs. Included in the suite of documents are:

  • WCAG 2.0 Overview - Provides an introduction to all WCAG 2.0 documentation and aids in understanding the framework for all the available resources.
  • How to Meet WCAG 2.0. - Lists all Guidelines, Success Criteria and Techniques. It is customizable, displaying as much or as little as you need from the guide. The first filter to apply is the display of the conformance levels. Set it to Level AA. You can rule out criteria that do not apply (i.e. if you don't use flash, you can hide the features that relate to flash). This document is very useful for designers and developers who want to get started with WCAG 2.0. The success criteria are the testable statements that define how Web content meets (conforms to) WCAG 2.0. Under each success criteria are a list of sufficient techniques and common failures.
  • Techniques for WCAG 2.0 - Provides specific guidance on how to develop accessible Web content. It not only has general and technology-specific examples, including for HTML, CSS, scripting, and WAI-ARIA but also common failures on what to avoid.
  • Understanding WCAG 2.0 - Details the rationale behind each Success Criterion, who it benefits, an explanation of key words, and links to Techniques. This document is useful for people involved in testing Web sites as it will aid in understanding what constitutes a pass or fail and it is useful for people who want to understand the guidelines and success criteria more thoroughly.

In addition to the W3C documentation, WebAIM provides a WCAG 2.0 Checklist. It is a simplified overview of the WCAG 2.0 guidelines, which can help make it easier to get started using WCAG 2.0.

Implementation Timeline

As stated on the University of Minnesota Accessibility Standards Web site the implementation timeline is:

  • All new and redesigned Web pages published by any college, department, program, or unit, as well as other Web resources published, hosted or otherwise provided by the University of Minnesota, shall be in compliance with the WCAG 2.0 AA standards.
  • Reasonable effort must be taken to ensure legacy Web pages and resources are in compliance no later than January 1, 2015.
  • Web pages, including legacy or archive pages, that are specifically requested to be made accessible as an accommodation for an individual with a disability shall be made accessible or an equally effective alternative must be provided within 10 business days.
    Information-based pages
    Communicate the same information in an accessible format, and with an equivalent level of accuracy.
    Interactive or service pages
    Provides for completion of a process (e.g. registration) in a time interval comparable to that of non-disabled users, and with comparable effort on the part of the requestor.
  • Each University of Minnesota affiliated Web site, including legacy pages, shall indicate, in plain text, a method of contact for users having difficulty accessing the content.