Skip to Main Content

Digital Accessibility

Information on digital accessibility for content creators.

About Digital Accessibility

Digital Accessibility is a set of guidelines and best practices designed to ensure that digital information technology can be used by all — not just some people using particular technologies, but by all people using the range of technologies they need, prefer, or have at their disposal.

Jump to a section on this page:

Why It Matters

Digital Accessibility is part of equitable access for people with disabilities, a value we hold as a library, as a university, and as a public institution.


Because the category of “people with disabilities” is extremely diverse — including folks with a range of sensory and physical capacities, using a range of different technologies and devices — digital accessibility principles focus on the “universal design” of digital information. This means designing digital information to be perceivable, operable, and understandable across all these differences.


As such, accessibility principles promote design that works better

  • for a range of users with and without disabilities
  • with the many technologies that interact with content
  • in changing external circumstances


Digital content created without accessibility principles may result in barriers and inequities that are at odds with our values and obligations, including:

  • content that is completely unusable for some groups of people
    • e.g. a video interview with no closed captions for Deaf or hard of hearing viewers
  • content that is far more complicated on some devices
    • e.g. a web form that can be completed with three mouse clicks but requires dozens of keystrokes with other input technologies


Digital accessibility is defined and codified in Standards. The most important standard for digital accessibility is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).


WCAG 2.1 (version 2.1 was adopted in 2018) defines broad principles for accessibility and provides individual, testable criteria for 3 levels of accessibility conformance (Level A, AA, and AAA). This standard is:

  • actively maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
  • based on user research with people who have a range of disabilities
  • supported by comprehensive documentation

Other Standards

Digital content that is designed to meet accessibility standards will, for the most part, be equitably usable across many differences. The WCAG Standard puts specific criteria to the broad commitment to digital accessibility, forms the basis of this Guide, and is referenced in legal requirements for accessibility.


Accessibility is a legally mandated by several laws:


  • Americans with Disabilities Act
    • Applies to state/public entities, including institutions of higher education
    • Protects the civil rights and equal opportunities of people with disabilities
    • Prohibits discrimination
    • Requires accessible design and individual accommodations to counteract the discriminatory effects of inaccessible design
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
    • Applies to federal entities and entities that receive some federal funding
    • Protects the civil rights and equal opportunities of people with disabilities
  • Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
    • Applies to technologies used or procured by federal entities, or by state entities that receive some forms of federal funding
    • Requires that technology meets digital accessibility standards based on WCAG

Where It Applies

For the University of Michigan, a public institution of higher education, digital accessibility should be implemented wherever we produce, procure, or distribute digital information technology, especially where that digital information technology is instrumental to our core mission activities—including teaching, scholarship, and engagement with our communities.


While this may seem a massive undertaking, digital accessibility is really just a set of practices that, once learned, can be easily incorporated into everything from writing an email to doing course prep, from marketing & communications to publishing.


Accessible practices translate to higher quality digital content, better digital design, and less exclusionary effects of unintentionally inaccessible design in the digital realm. By incorporating digital accessibility into our various areas of work, we all contribute to a Library and a University that are more inclusive and equitable.