Web Accessibility

This web page was composed to satisfy an assignment for a class on educational technology.  This page adheres to the basic principles for universal design, has been WAVE tested and satisfies W3C Web Accessibility Initiative priority 1 guidelines. It briefly covers the following topics:

  • What is web accessibility?
  • What web accessibility is not
  • Why do we care?
  • What are the guidelines?
  • Is accessibility hard to accomplish?
  • Additional Resources

What is accessibility?

The world wide web has grown up, and we are in the process of growing up as well.   We understand that there is no panacea, there is no magic wand to wave over our content, our designs, and our intentions to make web sites readily available to everyone, including but not limited to:

  • Deaf and hard of hearing
  • Visually impaired
  • Loss of mobility or muscle control, and
  • Cognitive disabilities.

Yet we strive for a design that suits a more universal audience.

With some forethought we can accommodate individuals relying on assistive technology to wander the web.  Someone with low vision might have a screen magnifier.  Someone with difficulty hearing might have captions to go along with any audio components.   For those who have limited or no use of their hands, there is speech recognition software that can interpret voice commands. And keyboards overlays.

Amazing video that will give you a general picture.

As designers, we have so much to consider.  It’s just not fair to ask a color-blind person to press a green button. Board games have small symbols coded into cards and other playing pieces to indicate color — why not include such symbols in our designs.

What Accessibility Is Not

  • Accessibility is not the same as device-independence
  • There is no such thing as perfect accessibility for everybody.  “There are more than five billion people on the planet, and they’re all individuals.” (Thatcher, xxxviii)

Why do we care?

  • “There are over thirty million people in the U.S. with disabilities or functional limitations (of which a major cause is aging), and this number is increasing.” (on its website: trace.wisc.edu)
  • There is a legal obligation not to discriminate against people with disabilities. (Thatcher xxvii)
  • Google loves accessible websites (Thatcher xxxviii)
  • You’ll be reaching a broader market (on its website: trace.wisc.edu)
  • “Census 2000 counted 79.6 million U.S. residents born in the years 1946 to 1964, inclusive.” (on its website: prb.org) We baby boomers, with our aging eyes, ears and brains, will support web sites that will accommodate our needs without making us feel old and slow.

What are the guidelines?

The US has established Section 508 web requirements, which have been adopted by many other countries. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C.com) provides guidelines that are widely accepted internationally. Have a look at the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) for more complete information.

Accessibility guidelines have been categorized and prioritized:

  • Priority 1 are checkpoints that must be satisfied
  • Priority 2 checkpoints should be satisfied
  • Priority 3 checkpoints might be satisfied.

Priority 1 checkpoints require:

  • a text equivalent for every non-text element.
  • all content shown in color must be available without the color.
  • the text’s natural language needs to be identified.
  • the content should make sense and stand alone without the structure and presentation.

And, most importantly, the language should be clear and simple.

For more information on all checkpoints, refer to the w3.org website.

Is Accessibility Hard to Accomplish?

Well, yes and no.  According to our text, it is a myth that accessibility is expensive and hard (Thatcher, 38) However, it does take some discipline and is a lot easier to manage if the issues are understood at the very beginning of the web project.  It is not all up to the web designers; content developers can do their part.

Just to experiment, I made an Adobe PDF file that passed its accessibility test very easily. I simply had to make sure the pictures were tagged with alternate text, the tables were not nested, and the native language was set in Document Preferences. It took five minutes total, including testing.  Many of the tasks required to make a web design accessible are tasks that you have already gladly taken on because they make the most sense in terms of a clean design.

Additional Resources

Thatcher, Jim, et al. Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance (Berkeley: Apress Co, 2006)

How People with Disabilities Use the Web (W3.org)

Web Accessibility for Older Users (W3.org)

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (W3.org)

General Concepts, Universal Design Principles and Guidelines (trace.wisc.edu)

“Thirty-Something (Million): Should They Be Exceptions?” (trace.wisc.edu)

Haaga, John, “Just How Many Baby Boomers Are There?” (prb.org)

Adobe® Acrobat® 9 Pro Accessibility Guide: Creating Accessible PDF from Microsoft® Word (adobe.com)

Guide to the Section 508 Standards for Electronic and Information Technology

Section 508 Standards for Electronic and Information Technology