Accessible Web Development: Making the Web Work for Everyone
By Lisa Gullette, CreatiVisibility, June 2010
Web sites, like people, are unique in their own special way – and neither could ever fit into a specific mold. Likewise, potential customers will access your Web site in many different ways – using desktops, laptops, or mobile phones from home, work or school. People that are sight or hearing impaired or those with other cognitive or physical disabilities also access and use the internet in other ways, including the use of a speech output system that reads aloud text on the screen or by using text magnifiers. This is where “accessible Web design” plays an important role in effectively reaching every visitor that might use your business site to gather information or to purchase your products and services.
Accessible Web design is the programming and development of Web sites that conform to guidelines created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). By following these guidelines, Web developers create pages that are accessible to everyone, using any type of computer or internet access. As Tim Berners-Lee, Director of the W3C, puts it: "The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect." This requires that designers create resources that can be used by a wide spectrum of site visitors including individuals with disabilities, older persons, people for whom English is a second language, and those using outdated hardware and software.
Private business and personal Web sites are not required to be compliant under law, but would present themselves as more professional and considerate if the site can be accessed by any and all who wish to do so. Publicly funded Web sites, on the other hand, are required by federal law under Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (link to: http://www.section508.gov/) to insure that their site is compliant to a specific degree. The law requires that Federal agencies' electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities. States have laws that embrace similar requirements for their Web sites as well.
There are a variety of issues that can prevent a site from being universally accessible and these issues can be easily spotted and remedied by Web design firms such as CreatiVisibility. Some of these issues include:
- Older computers that have slower processors and download pages at a slower rate. Your pages should be developed and tested for small page load times.
- Smaller monitors with smaller resolutions that make the overall page viewing area small in comparison to larger monitors with larger resolutions. See and read a visual comparison example of resolutions.
Dial-up internet connection loads (or downloads) Web pages slower than cable, T1, or DSL internet connections. Your pages should be developed and tested for small download times.
- Some viewers prefer to enlarge the text on their screen by changing browser settings, so your pages should accommodate the desire to enlarge the text on the page.
- Some viewers are not able to use a mouse and your Web pages should be easily accessed by using the tab and enter keys on the keyboard, at the very least. Your pages can be programmed so that usage of the keyboard is user-friendly.
- Some internet users are sight-impaired or hearing-impaired. Your site should make sense with and without sound, and with and without using technology that are used by handicapped internet users. Such technology may include Braille readers, screen readers, screen magnifiers, etc.
- Hyperlinks within the body content can be misrepresented. Hyperlinks within the context should read out of context, meaning the underlined hyperlink reads very specific to where the link will take the user, such as “view class schedule” instead of “click here” for class schedule (with “click here” being the only hyperlinked words.) This clarifies it for sighted users as well as screen reading technology users.
- Web programming sometimes uses special programs (such as Flash) or scripts to display content. Your site should be readable without the scripts, special styles, and special plug-in programs. A Webmaster can code alternatives for your site when users do not have those special functions enabled or downloaded to run on their computer.
Other factors to take into consideration are browser compatibility, using current and updated programming code and creating content for your page that is formatted for easy navigation and comprehension.
Sites designed by CreatiVisibility conform to accessibility standards right from the initial design stages. If you developed your own pages, integrating accessibility into your site takes some effort, but there are resources that can help you. You can become more educated through research on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and by downloading tools that will test your own pages for compliance. If you only developed the content on your site, you can request that your Webmaster program and test your pages for accessibility compliance and you can find out more about writing for the Web so your pages are meaningful to a broader group of readers.
Designing for accessibility doesn’t mean that your site will lose its uniqueness but you will break the mold in how you reach a broader potential customer base. Contact CreatiVisibility today for help in making your Web site attractive and user-friendly regardless of how a person accesses your site.
For more information about CreatiVisibility and how it can help you start a marketing campaign, visit: www.CreatiVisibility.com.