Accessible Design Principles

Most people today can hardly conceive of life without the internet. However, people with disabilities use the web differently that those without disabilities.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for 'how to' videos and resources on the web.

Scroll down to review accessible design principles you need to be aware of. Each is explained in detail on the related page:

Headings & Styles

Sighted viewers can scan a page and use visual cues like larger or bold text to find the section of a document that they want to read. However, for someone using a screen reader, these visual markups are useless - leaving them to navigate word by word from the start of the document or webpage until they find the section they want.

  • Using styles and headings allow a screen reader to navigate from section to section, making for a more convenient experience for that user.
  • Headings should always be used in a hierarchical manner. Anything formatted as Heading 3 should be a sub-section to what has been labeled as Heading 2. Headings are nested under other headings; you should never jump from Heading 1 to Heading 4 without using Headings 2 and 3.

Alternative Text for Images (Alt Text)

Adding alternative text for images is the first principle of web accessibility. Images are non-text content, and must provide contextual information for screen readers and other accessibility devices. Alternative text for images provides semantic meaning and description for images which is necessary in order to determine the content of the image.

Font Type & Size

Try to use simple font in a good size - no smaller than 11 point for printed materials. Avoid fancy or cursive fonts as these can be difficult to read. Avoid using too many fonts and typing long phrases or sentences in ALL CAPS.

Formatted Lists

When you create lists, use the bulleted or numbered list formatting tool. This allows a screen reader to identify the number of items in a list. Using list formatting tools allows a screen reader to determine the length of the list, and the reader can understand how the content is organized and how many items are on the list.

  • Do not type the numbers or dashes yourself.


Use tables only when you absolutely have to. Use them to organize data when that is necessary. Do not use tables to layout your page. Screen readers will read a table from left to right starting at the top. The relationship between the cells is not defined by a screen reader if it is not formatted correctly. Follow instructions for formatting your table according to the platform you are using (Microsoft Word, etc.)


Make sure your use of color is appropriate for differently sighted (low vision) viewers

  • Don't use color alone to convey meaning
  • Use sufficient color contrast
  • Check your color using color contrast checkers

Use of Space

Often, people use the tab key or space bar to indent items. People often add extra blank lines between sections of a document or page in order to distinguish between sections. For a student with a screen reader, they may believe they've reached the end of a document if they encounter multiple blank spaces. Try to limit the use of blank spaces and use formatting tools to create spaces before or after your line breaks or section headings.

Links and Hypertext

Avoid uninformative link phrases. Phrases like "click here" do not give the user a description of where they will be taken. Instead, use descriptive hyperlink text that clearly communicates what the user will get when they click.

  • Consider the link length: overly long or overly short links may present contextual difficulties
  • Never use an URL as a link. Imagine listening to a screen reader read that off.
  • Include a link title for additional explanation of link reference.
  • See: Links and Hyperlinks


Resources on the Web

Contact Accessibility Coordinators

  Brandon Ray/Director of IT Services/Technology Accessibility Coordinator

Fax: 360.442.2259

  Mary Kate Morgan/Director of Disability Support Services & Special Populations


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