Making Your Site Accessible

It is Washington University in St. Louis policy (and simply Web best practice) to ensure that our websites are accessible to all users, including hearing- and visually-impaired visitors who use assistive devices to experience websites.

WordPress and the WashU Web Theme have already taken measures to make our sites accessible; however, you will need to make some provisions manually to enable all visitors to experience your website with ease.


Screen-readers use your text formatting to tell how a page is organized and what on the page is important. Using content elements appropriately allows all users to make their way through the site in a logical manner.

  • Use headings and Intro text styles appropriately
  • Use tables only to display tabular data (not for layout)
  • When giving instructions, do not rely upon shape, size, or visual location (e.g., “Click the square icon to continue” or “Instructions are in the right-hand column”) or sound (e.g., “A beeping sound indicates you may continue.”).


All images must have alternative (“alt”) text and a description. You can fill in these fields when editing your image in the Media Editor. Alt text should be meaningful in the context of the Web page.

  • Include a clear description of the activity occurring in any images on a page.
  • Include important information contained in the image, such as a title or date of an event. However, if possible, include any important information in text-based page content rather than in an image.
  • Images used as links should have alt text describing the destination of the link, not the image itself.
  • Alt text with acronyms should be written with spaces between the letters (ex: A W F rather than AWF).
  • When images are used as spacers or in toolbars, leave the alt tag blank. The screen reader will simply skip over these images.

Screenshot of adding alternative text to an image


All videos should include a transcript and closed captioning. Transcripts and closed captioning can be added to any Youtube video. Be sure to add closed captioning manually rather than using automatic closed captioning because automatic closed captioning often misinterprets what is said.

Non-HTML Files

PDF documents – as well as Word documents and many other formats that must be opened as separate files – are not the most accessible way to present content on the Web. It is Web best practice to include as much content as possible as on-page text-based content instead of in a document such as a PDF. However, if you must include PDF documents on your website, they should be accessible through various screen readers. At a minimum, this means that the text must be searchable and able to be selected. Learn about creating accessible PDF documents.

Always indicate when a link leads the user to a non-HTML resource such as a PDF. We recommend including the document’s type in the text. For instance: Read the Washington University style manual (PDF).

Opening Links

Rather than forcing links to open in a new browser window or tab, allow users the control to open links in the way they prefer. Opening links in new windows or tabs is not only out of line with WashU Web guidelines, but it creates a significant accessibility issue, as some users can be confused by new windows or tabs. Additionally, a new window does not retain the browser history of the previous window, breaking the back button.