Digital Accessibility

A brief introduction to Harvard’s digital accessibility standards and helpful links for more information.


Harvard University is committed to making its websites accessible to people with disabilities. As part of that commitment, it requires all public-facing university sites to comply with WCAG 2.1 AA standards. Every site created on this platform includes a link to Harvard’s Digital Accessibility Policy in the footer.

Digital accessibility is based on the principle that everyone should have access to your site’s content and functionality, regardless of whether or not they have a disability. It is estimated that 20% of people have some sort of disability, and many of those users will access your site through assistive technology, such as screenreaders, screen magnification software, and speech input software. Websites need to accommodate those users through design, development, and content standards.

Understanding Digital Accessibility Standards

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has written a set of digital accessibility standards known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines are globally accepted by organizations and governments as the gold standard in digital accessibility.

The WCAG standards are broken into four principles:

  • Perceivable: Information and the site’s user interface must be presented to users in ways they can perceive. The use of the word “perceive” is important because it is inclusive of people who have sight-related disabilities.
  • Operable: Your site must be operable for all users, not just those who use a particular piece of technology. This principle is inclusive of users who cannot rely on a mouse, trackpad, or even a keyboard to navigate through your site.
  • Understandable: Your site’s content and functionality must be understandable to all users. Content should be easy-to-understand, functionality should be predictable, and the site should provide guidance on how to complete specific tasks.
  • Robust: Your site should work well on all devices, including assistive technology.

Within the WCAG, there are three levels of accessibility that sites can meet: A, AA, and AAA. These levels are cumulative, which means that each level includes new standards as well as all of the standards from the level(s) below it. Harvard University requires adherence to AA standards.

While some digital accessibility standards are based in the site’s code, a lot of it will depend on your design and content choices. We encourage you to reference your SiteImprove plugin when creating and editing pages. Below are more resources to help you create a site that maintains AA accessibility standards.

Monitoring Accessibility

Digital accessibility is an ongoing process and must be monitored throughout the life of your subsite. HUIT offers all “Harvard employees working on public-facing websites for Harvard” access to Site Improve, an online accessibility tool that provide reports on WCAG 2.1 compliance. Site owners should request access to Site Improve through HUIT  so they can continue to audit and maintain their site’s compliance.

Additionally, Site Improve has released a free Chrome extension for quick access to compliance reports. This extension is very helpful for site editors who want to check the accessibility of a page as they are editing it.

Digital Accessibility Services

This website provides the Harvard community with resources, training, and insights about digital accessibility.

Digital Accessibility Training

View the full list of digital accessibility training sessions available to the Harvard community on Harvard Training Portal.

The Official WCAG 2.1 Guidelines

The official website for the WCAG guidelines. Learn more about the standards and how you can comply.