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Case Study - University of Wisconsin at Madison

ATHEN E-Journal Issue #2 (2007)

University of Wisconsin at Madison

Alice Anderson

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is one of the largest Ph.D.-granting institutions in the United States with enrollment exceeding 40,000 undergraduates, professional, and graduate students, and it employs nearly 14,000 faculty and staff members. It was one of the first universities to develop a web accessibility policy. Its goal was to make the web more accessible for people with visual, hearing, mobility and other disabilities.

The original "Policy Governing World Wide Web Accessibility at UW-Madison" was enacted in December 2000; it was based on the guidelines developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). In November of 2001 it was updated and used Section 508 standards of the Federal Rehabilitation Act, specifically subsections 1194.1 through 1194.22 and 1194.31. Both the original and the updated policies included language addressing:

  • Required inclusion of contact information if users have trouble accessing content within the site
  • Legacy pages (web content already posted when the policy took effect)
  • Compliance timelines
  • How to prioritize accessibility efforts for core institutional information including course work
  • A process for requesting exceptions
  • Information about training, consulting, and technological tools for the campus at, as well as definitions and resources related to the Federal Rehabilitation Act- Section 508 and W3C

The new revised policy ( was co-sponsored, endorsed and distributed by Melany S. Newby, Vice Chancellor for Legal and Executive Affairs, ADA Coordinator; Annie Stunden, Chief Information Officer (CIO), Director, Division of Information Technology (DoIT). As the co-sponsor of the campus Web Accessibility Policy, DoIT continues to play a major role in developing awareness, training and resources for the campus regarding the policy and web accessibility.

Initially, face-to-face classes were offered at no charge for campus faculty, staff and students and had a focus on web accessibility or compliance with the campus policy. These Instructor led classes were run from spring 2002 through fall 2004. An online course "Web Accessibility 101: Policy, Standards and Design Techniques was developed in 2003, and has replaced the face-to-face instruction.

Training in web content at UW-Madison occurs in several other departments, colleges and groups other than DoIT. The curriculum, techniques, intended audience and inclusion of (or omission of) accessibility awareness and concepts also varies and is not covered in this paper. The focus here is on DoIT - the campus central IT (Information Technology) organization for the 3,484 faculty/instructors, 12,547 staff, and more than 41,000 students who use DoIT services and training.

Web Accessibility is no longer separate training at DoIT; instead accessibility issues and techniques are built into the curriculum of web design, application and other technology training in a variety of ways for a variety of audiences:

  • Faculty and staff who support the creation of instruction materials used in a UW-Madison timetable courses are offered a variety of workshops and series (Web Development, Presentation Technology and Audio Video Series, Creating Online Courses, etc.) (
  • Software Training for Students (STS) is funded through the Student Information Technology Initiative fee a portion of student tuition. STS offers free computer training to registered UW-Madison students that is linked to degree-credit course work or future job placement, and helps students stay current with software updates (
  • Student Technical Training (STT) specializes in training students for campus IT support work within the unique environment of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. STT takes students from every discipline within the university, and equips them with the skills that they need to acquire and excel in campus IT positions (
  • Professional Technical Education provides a full continuum of workforce training services, teaching individuals new skills in the classroom, creating online courses to train employees at multiple locations, customizing classes to meet specific organizational needs, and producing digital media training solutions (

Advantages of incorporating accessibility issues and techniques into all training rather than having separate accessibility training are:

  • It is context specific or applies to each specific software or training area;
  • The learner is exposed to these concepts often;
  • It is considered part of a skill set, rather than separate or an add-on.

Limitations include having to continually obtain buy-in from top-level administration to continue with these efforts. Personnel retire or move on, and each new hire at all levels needs to buy-in. Budget cuts also require that remaining personnel do more with less, and unless accessibility is seen as benefiting many, it is easy to marginalize in favor of other competing needs.

If anything could be or could have been added to this model, it would be gathering base-line data, not only for the level of accessibility of campus information and instructional web-sites, but also of how many web and application developers were aware of accessibility issues and techniques, and how that data has changed over time.