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Library Service to Persons with Disabilities: Web Accessibility Guidelines

Covers ALA policies, resources. Provides resources


Using web-based resources is pervasive in many parts of life, but especially in libraries. Although there are estimates that perhaps as many as 1/5 of the population has some kind of disability, not all require adaptations in order to use web-based resources effectively. In 1998, Congress passed an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act to include Section 508 related to accessible electronic and information technology. While the law only applies to the federal government, its provisions have been adopted by many school, public, and academic libraries as a functional requirement for website design.

In 2009, the ALA Council adopted Council Document #52 (Revised 7.14.09), Purchasing of Accessible Electronic Resources Resolution, which read: “That the American Library Association (ALA) strongly recommends:
1. That all libraries purchasing, procuring, using, maintaining and contracting for electronic resources and services require vendors to guarantee that products and services comply with Section 508 regulations, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, or other applicable accessibility standards and guidelines; and
2. That all libraries purchasing, procuring, and contracting for electronic resources and services ensure, through their own testing protocols or by requiring vendor guarantees, that electronic products and services have been fully tested and found to be in compliance with applicable accessibility regulations, guidelines, and criteria; and
3. That funding authorities, including private institutions, the federal government and state and local governments, provide adequate funding to allow all libraries purchasing, procuring, and contracting for electronic resources and services the ability to comply with accepted standards and laws of accessibility for people with disabilities.”

The major categories of disability types are:

  • Visual -- Blindness, low vision, color-blindness
  • Hearing -- Deafness
  • Motor -- Inability to use a mouse, slow response time, limited fine motor control
  • Cognitive-- Learning disabilities, distractibility, inability to remember or focus on large amounts of information

Each type of disability will requires certain types of adaptations in the design of the web content. Most of the time, these adaptations benefit nearly everyone, not just people with disabilities. Captions and alt-text can benefit other users, as well.

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