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Summary of key points

  • You MUST ensure your website design follows a consistent navigation scheme across all pages, and that the menus or other navigation mechanisms are located in the same place
  • You MUST provide a page title that describes the topic or purpose of the page
  • You MUST provide structural headers to convey the structure of your page.
  • You MUST provide a text based equivalent if non-text web content is integral to understanding the editorial content (video, audio etc.).
  • You MUST ensure that all functionality is available using the keyboard alone 

The OU Web Accessibility Guidelines has been prepared as part of an overall digital governance review led by Digital Engagement. The working group that has produced them has drawn on expertise and representations from units across the university. It has liaised with SeGA (Securing Greater Accessibility), The Open University’s programme with responsibility for accessibility matters. ‘Web accessibility’ is defined as the practice of making websites usable by people of all abilities and disabilities. This document is intended as a practical working guide for use by:

  • anyone with responsibility for new web content (including third party content) 
  • anyone who develops new or existing web systems 

In addition, any organisations which are employed by the University to carry out work on its behalf (e.g. freelancer, agencies, contractors), must also be made aware of and follow these guidelines.

This document should be read in conjunction with our other web standards

W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0

The OU Web Accessibility Guidelines are based on the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0). The fundamental principles of the WCAG 2.0 are that web content and systems should be:

  • Perceivable – information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive 
  • Operable – user interface components and navigation must be operable
  • Understandable – information and the operation of user interface must be understandable
  • Robust – content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. 

In addition, The Open University has a legal requirement to present accessible web content.

This document also contains guidelines that are based on common accessibility issues that are identified in OU accessibility testing.  These guidelines are labelled ‘OU’ to distinguish them from WCAG guidelines.

This document sets out how these principles can be translated to practice, in terms of absolute requirements and ideal provisions. Examples are also given for reference. 

This document reflects step 13 of the BSI Web Accessibility – Code of Practice (BS8878, 2010), ‘Use web guidelines to direct accessible web production’. BS8878 is primarily about building accessibility into organisational practice and process where as WCAG 2.0 and these guidelines focus on the properties of the web pages. The code of practice is available from the BSI shop. OU Staff can access it free from the Library.

Exemptions and Third Party Content

If materials (including third party content) do not meet the guidelines then you must apply for exemption. Module Teams should check the accessibility of third party web sites where they are essential for achieving specific learning objectives and Securing Greater Accessibility (SeGA) has provided guidelines on doing this [See: Guidance for 3rd party material checking]. Whilst these OU Web Accessibility Guidelines may assist in assessing the accessibility of third party websites, the impracticality of applying the exemption process to all third party websites is recognised; especially where large number of such resources are involved; e.g. in the Library. If the accessibility of essential third party websites cannot be assured, alternative ways of achieving those learning outcomes should be identified for those students who experience accessibility problems interacting with them. The OU Web Standards include a process for requesting exemptions from the guidelines. If your website or resource cannot fully conform to these accessibility guidelines, see the requesting exemption page. It is possible to apply for a blanket exemption for large sets of third party resources. 


Further guidance for assessing the accessibility of materials can be found on the SeGA website. If you have any queries, please contact: Digital Services

Translating the WCAG 2.0 guidelines into practice

Guidance on web accessibility in practice is given as:

  • Key principles for authors of new content, and 
  • Key principles for developers of new and existing web systems 
  • Ensuring the accessibility of third-party content 

The standard has been broken down into 4 significant work streams, please follow the links below for further information:

‘Web accessibility’ is defined as the practice of making websites usable by people of all abilities and disabilities.

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...about MUSTSHOULD or MAY?

The Terminology section explains why each of these terms is used, and what they mean.

Further information

Digital Services coordinate the management of the framework,
for further information please email
Digital Services