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Universal Design and Web Accessibility Resources

Universal design for the World Wide Web means designing Web resources to be usable by everyone, regardless of ability, to the greatest extent possible. The use of universal Web design principles results in a high degree of Web accessibility, maximizing access to information and communications by those with vision, hearing, cognitive or mobility impairments.

At Indiana University, the goal of the Assistive Technology and Accessibility Centers is to help Web developers to deliver barrier-free Web sites so that all university information is available to all students, faculty and staff. As an introduction to our Web accessibility consulting, training, and testing services, we have developed this page of resources to help you get started.

Early Web Design Issues

Since the beginning of the Web, Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) has evolved through several versions in an attempt to address common problems and serve the widest range of users.

The early versions of HTML enabled Web designers to describe the structure of a page, but they lacked features that would provide much control over how the page would appear. Over time, stylistic enhancements were introduced that would afford designers much more visual control, but these additions posed a new level of complexity as the following problems became apparent:

  • Web pages became more complicated to write, edit, and manage. Since the HTML code that effected layout and appearance was mixed in with the structure, semantics, and main content of the page, these documents became longer and more likely to contain errors.
  • If changes to the Web site design became necessary, each Web page would need to be edited since the HTML contained this information across all pages.
  • Among graphical Web browsers, there were significant differences in the appearance and functionality of Web sites.
  • Web sites also appeared differently on different computers, due to users' various screen sizes and resolution settings.
  • A variety of new Web-enabled devices such as cellular phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) emerged, each with small screens and different Web presentation capabilities.
  • Users with vision, hearing, cognitive, or mobility impairments could find it difficult to navigate, understand, and utilize many Web sites.
  • The desire (or requirement) to make Web sites accessible to a wide range of users, Web browsers, and other Web-enabled devices meant that designers would need to create multiple versions of the same content. For many, this practice would prove to be terribly inefficient, inconsistent, and ultimately unworkable.
The Web had grown in popularity and scope. Web designers could no longer afford to think of the Web as a purely visual medium, nor could they make assumptions about how users would access it. Since the early versions of HTML were inadequate for presenting information on Web sites in different ways, for different users and types of devices, new design standards and guidelines became necessary.

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New Standards and Guidelines

The aforementioned early Web design issues made it apparent that the underlying technologies of the Web would need to become more appropriate to the specific needs of different users and devices.

The introduction of HTML 4.01 by the World Wide Web Consortium in 1999 ushered in a new era that focused on a simple premise: HTML documents that distinguish structure from presentation will adapt more easily to new technologies.

This fundamental change meant that the presentational elements and attributes that had been added to HTML over the years would be moved to separate documents called Style Sheets, leaving only the markup that described the structure and semantics of the Web page.

The result is that Web designers could now create a new set of presentational rules for different types of devices, without having to rewrite every Web page. If changes to the style and appearance of a Web site became necessary, only the Style Sheets would need to be edited.

Further Work on this section needed: bridge to paragraph on XHTML/CSS, how they aid interoperability, WAI, 14 WCAG points.

Further Work on this section needed: Section 508 paragraph

Accessibility Testing

Further Work on this section needed: Paragraph stating that we provide services, link to our Testing Methods, and I still need to creat a form that gathers information.

Evaluation Tools

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Reference Books

Here are some of the best reference books for learning about universal design and Web accessibility:

Online Resources

Here are some of the best online resources for learning about universal design and Web accessibility:

Web Standards

Accessibility Techniques



Founded in 1984, CAST is an educational, not-for-profit organization that uses technology and universal design principles to expand opportunities for all people. Bobby provides comprehensive analysis of webpage accessibility, including concerning priority level errors with explanations and referral to W3C Accessibility Guidelines upon which Bobby bases its analyses.