U-M Accessibility Glossary

The following terms are used frequently on this website:


Digital technology and content has greatly enhanced peoples’ abilities. But some in our community can't access a lot of what’s out there for a variety of reasons.  There are things we can do when we write, design, and code that will solve these problems and help everyone use our tech and digital content. That set of techniques is called accessibility, or accessible design.


The guidelines adopted by the university are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which are published and maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium. Although they reference web technologies in the name, they are applicable to all information technology.

The university currently is working towards compliance with the 2.1 version, level AA (WCAG 2.1 AA), widely accepted as setting the standard for digital accessibility in higher education

Information Technology

Information technology is, but is not limited to, websites, web-delivered content, course materials, media (including videos and podcasts), social media, eText, digital applications, software, mobile applications, and digital signage.

Legal Obligations

Higher education institutions have an expectation of providing equal access through IT accessibility programs (“APO”) from the Office for Civil Rights. OCR has produced consistent guidance in settlement agreements with institutions found to be in violation of the ADA Title II and Section 504 due to inaccessible websites and digital systems/content.

The relevant documents are:

  • Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADA)
  • Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act
  • Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act


Accessibility risk can be defined as the degree to which the inaccessibility of an information technology (IT) product will negatively affect the university community. Accessibility risk encompasses the following by order of importance:

  1. Exclusion risk
    Adopting information technology that is not accessible to all creates barriers for members of our community.
  2. Regulatory and legal risk
    Purchasing, developing or adopting information technology that is not accessible to all leaves the university open to special regulatory attention from federal bodies charged with enforcing laws and regulations regarding equitable information technology.
  3. Reputational and brand risk
    The university also runs the risk of damage to the brand. Disabled individuals are valued members of the University of Michigan community, and failing to provide equal access to digital resources to people with disabilities blocks significantly more users from access than if an individual building is inaccessible.

Screen Readers

Screen reader technology is software that helps blind or visually impaired people use a computer screen. The screen reader audibly reads the text as well as information about where the user is, the structure of tables, the meaning of images, how to interact with forms, etc. But screen reader software can't accomplish the latter functions without the page or document having been specially coded with extra information. How to add this extra coding depends on the publishing format (web, Google Doc, PowerPoint slides, PDF, etc.) you're producing.

To learn more and see/hear a screen reader in action, see a couple of short U-M videos on screen readers. For a list of popular screen reader software, see the Knox Center's list of supported screen readers.

WCAG 2.1 Level AA

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a series of web accessibility guidelines published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the main international standards organization for the Internet.

The University of Michigan follows WCAG version 2.1 Level AA, meaning those success criteria that are listed with a conformance level of A or AA. An easy way to view just the A and AA success criteria is to see the filtered view of How to Meet WCAG (Quick Reference).