WebAIM, an organization focused on the creation of accessible web content, released an updated version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) focused on the principles of accessibility and the conceptual content development process (“Constructing a POUR Website,” n.d.; “WebAIM,” n.d.). The four identified guiding principles of accessibility, according to WCAG 2.0, are Perceivability, Operability, Understandability and Robustness (POUR) (“W3C,” n.d.; “Constructing a POUR Website,” n.d.). Although focused on website development and web content specifically, these four principles of accessibility are useful to guide the creation of any course material intended to be accessible. A description of each principle and application to a higher education context follows.

Perceivable. For web content to be considered perceivable, all users must be able to sense and input the content in order to cognitively process the information (“Perceivable,” n.d.). Although this definition might seem obvious or self-explanatory, many users of web content find that the information held within a site is not personally perceivable, and thus not accessible.

In the context of higher education, developing perceivable instructional materials can accommodate a variety of student disabilities (whether documented or undocumented). Examples of perceivability in instruction:

  • Using relevant and meaningful alt-text tags for images
  • Recording and captioning lectures to share with all students
  • Creating assignments and assessments that can be easily read by screen readers
  • Being consistent and mindful with regards to colors, fonts, background sounds, etc.

Operable. Operability in design ensures that all users will be able to interact with the content, even if they are incapable or unable to use “standard” technology (such as a keyboard and mouse) (“Operable,” n.d.).

In higher education, many considerations of operability are related to the use and availability of assistive technologies (“Operable,” n.d.; “W3C,” n.d.):

  • Making course pages accessible and readable with mobile devices
    • At Lafayette, ITS considers accessibility and readability of sites created using supported technology solutions, including Moodle and WordPress.
    • If a professor chooses to use another solution that is not supported by ITS, specific consideration should be given to the accessibility and readability of course pages using mobile devices.
  • Using speech-to-text software for assignments and/or assessments
  • Allowing students full control over recordings (including pause, fast forward, rewind, or change the video playback speed)
  • Providing extra time for students as necessary for online quizzes and electronic submissions

Understandable. Beyond the technical aspects of accessibility, understandability is the guiding principle that relates to the cognitive usability of web content being delivered (“Understandable,” n.d.). Even if users can perceive and navigate content, what if they can’t actually understand the information intended to be disseminated?

Within a higher education classroom, understandability of instructional materials is essential for student learning. Development of understandable materials can come in a variety of ways (“Understandable,” n.d.):

  • Using language that is simple enough for your audience. This is not to say that you can’t use context-specific language, but be mindful that your students are not yet masters of the content.
  • Navigation of course materials, including a course Moodle page or WordPress site, and any distributed materials, should be clear and easy-to-follow for students.

Robust. Technology is constantly changing, and as such, developers need to create web content that is dynamic and flexible enough to handle these changes (“Robust,” n.d.). Essentially, there is an expectation that websites and included content will be accessible from any platform, on any device.

This expectation should be met in higher education with regards to instructional materials that are developed. By utilizing the resources highlighted in the Technology Resources for Accessibility page, you can find guidelines for creating accessible documents. For course-specific web content, consider the following:

  • Course sites (including Moodle pages and WordPress sites) should be navigable and readable from any browser, on any device.
  • Be cognizant of any operating system constraint (e.g. MacOS versus Windows) for different software that might be required for students to complete coursework.
  • Never develop materials for a specific assistive technology; rather, create accessible products that will be useful across technology options. For example, this may include e-pens or screen readers.


For more information, here is a quick reference guide from WebAIM.



Constructing a POUR Website: Putting People at the Center of the Process. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2018, from https://webaim.org/articles/pour/#principles

Operable. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2018, from https://webaim.org/articles/pour/operable

Perceivable. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2018, from https://webaim.org/articles/pour/perceivable

Robust. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2018, from https://webaim.org/articles/pour/robust

Understandable. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2018, from https://webaim.org/articles/pour/understandable

W3C: Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). (n.d.). Accessibility Principles. Retrieved November 13, 2018, from https://www.w3.org/WAI/fundamentals/accessibility-principles/

WebAIM: Web Accessibility in Mind. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2018, from https://webaim.org/