Accessibility plan for websites

This year, we've taken the first big step towards our goal of making Montana State University's websites completely accessible to all users, regardless of disability. We've done tons, but there's still much work to be done, and we need your help.

On May 2nd, 2018, MSU entered into a voluntary agreement with the Office for Civil Rights (an enforcement unit within the US Department of Education) -- this agreement commits MSU to bringing its current body of web content up to current web accessibility standards, and assuring that any new content published to the web adheres to these standards out of the gate.  The standard for web accessibility we are adopting is WCAG AA.

What is web accessibility?

Web accessibility ensures that all persons, regardless of disability, have access to the same information and functionality available on our websites in the same time frame and with equivalent ease of use.  Accessible web content ensures an equitable experience for all visitors, including current students, prospectives, parents, university employees, and the public.

The state of accessibility on

While we've fixed about 90% of the accessibility issues by bringing websites into our content management system (CMS), there are still a large volume of accessibility barriers that need to be addressed.

How much content is on our web domain?

  • About 500,000 pieces of web content (web pages, images, documents.)
  • 800 CMS websites.
  • 800 active content managers (logged in within the last year).
  • 1600 registered content managers.

160,000 accessibility errors currently on

  • Simple errors to fix: 94,000 - Includes images missing alternative text, color contrast issues, etc.
    • Remediation: ~5 minutes to remediate 1 error.
    • Estimation: ~8,000 hours to remediate all errors. 
    • About 2 trained FTE working 2 years.
  • Much harder errors to fix: 66,000. Inaccessible documents like PDFs, DOCs, XLSX files.
    • Remediation: ~30 minutes to remediate 1 doc - can take up to 40 hours
    • Estimation: 33,000 hours to remediate all errors.
    • About 8 trained FTE working 2 years.

The problem with the PDF (and MS Office documents) format

  • PDFs can be made accessible, but rarely are - it requires a more technical training to learn how to create PDFs that meet WCAG AA standards.
  • Our CMS cannot assist with creating accessible PDFs - they must be created natively in Adobe software using Acrobat's tools
  • Not mobile friendly (50% or more of your audience).
  • Not batch scannable for accessibility errors as web pages are.
  • Meant for print, not for web.

We've all had the experience of touching a link on our phone thinking we're opening a webpage, but instead a PDF is downloaded to our phone and we have to do the pinch-and-pull, zoom-in-and-out with our fingers. It's a bit like trying to read a sheet of paper through a tiny window smaller than your palm...


  1. If you're creating content for the web, you should be creating the content as web page.
  2. If you require the PDF format (or Word, Excel, Power Point, etc.)  because you are creating a printable document or must use a PDF another reason, then it is your responsibility to ensure you build it so it meets WCAG AA standards. 
  3. If your PDF cannot meet WCAG AA standards, it can be included as an alternative download on a web page that contains the same information.

If you follow these rules above, then all visitors will be able to enjoy your content.

How do we approach fixing this?

Developers within Web & Digital Communications will fix all template-level errors within our CMS, which includes our header, footer, our snippets, and other globally-applied styles.  MSU's content managers (that means you!) will take our "Creating Accessible MSU Web Content" training course and begin creating accessible content.  Our team of student accessibility specialists (within Web & Digital Communications) will begin executing our remediation plan on existing web content simultaneously. 

Scope of Voluntary Resolution

Remember that "voluntary resolution"  mentioned earlier? It breaks up the content on into three separate categories which will each be handled differently.

  1. Legacy content
    • Web content published before June 1, 2014 does not require immediate compliance, unless requested by a user or updated (updating would make it "existing content" or "future content" as the publish date would change.)
  2. Existing content
    • Web content published June 1, 2014 – March 1, 2019 will be brought up to compliance by Web and Digital Communications working with the content managers across campus.  More details on the remediation effort are available here.
  3. Future content
    1. Web content published after March 1, 2019 needs to be compliant and will be the responsibility of the content managers.
    2. Content managers will be trained in compliance and remediation - take the our "Creating Accessible MSU Web Content (CMS 115)" training here

What we've already done

We have already made progress toward improving the accessibility of MSU's web content:

  • Content Management System (CMS) deployed 4 years ago university-wide.
    • Solves many accessibility issues.
    • Included basic accessibility in user training.
  • Moving all non-CMS websites on into the CMS for ease of accessibility compliance and monitoring.
  • Creating training for all content managers across campus.
  • Integrating our new accessibility scanner into the CMS.

How we'll continue to be accessible in the future

We'll be performing yearly audits of all the sites and pages on, and we'll let you know if you've missed anything or if you need to fix things going forward.

We've created an accessibility training that is required to gain or maintain editing privileges to your website.  Accessibility will become a cornerstone of our training as we continue to grow our website user base. 

Our accessibility on-page scanner will help you when you're creating and editing new pages in the CMS. If you miss something, the scanner will highlight and help you fix the problem before you publish.

What are your next steps?

Regarding future content:

(Content that will be published after March 1, 2019) 

  • Web & Digital Communications will be contacting all registered CMS users and providing them with new 40-minute online CMS web accessibility training link
  • After completing the training, the CMS accessibility tool will be enabled for your account - it will scan any new pages you publish and assist you with correcting accessibility errors it finds.  Use of the tool will be explained in the training, and we can answer any of your questions along the way.
  • By March 1st, 2019, the ability to publish content in the CMS was revoked from users who had not completed the new accessibility training.

Regarding existing content:

(Content published between June 1, 2014 and March 1, 2019)

  • Web & Digital will begin contacting departments and units individually beginning Fall 2018 to discuss remediation of existing web pages and documents - this process will be ongoing over the next 2 years
  • We will work with you to designate and remove unnecessary content (outdated PDFs, unused pages, old images)
  • We will determine what portion of the remaining content Web & Digital can remediate - this is dependent on the volume of content present.  The documents and pages that exceed our capacity to remediate will become the responsibility of the individual department / unit.

We thank you for your support

This is no easy task for you or us, and we sincerely appreciate your help in making our website accessible to everyone, regardless of disability.

Have questions?

Get in touch by sending in a support ticket and we'll get right back to you.

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