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New Webmasters > Accessibility > Creating Accessible Websites

Creating Accessible Websites

Accessibility is just as important on the web as it is in the real world

Accessibility is just as important on the web as it is in the real world

Creating accessible website has never been as important as it is now. Accessibilty used to be about making sure your website was compatible with screen readers, used by people with visual impairments. These days an accessibile website is now more about creating a user friendly website for everybody, whatever their needs.

Why Make a Website Accessible?

The web is becoming more about rich media, audio, video and AJAX. The bottom line is that you want as many people as possible to be able to use your website. There are several situations when thinking about making your site accessible will help you:

  • The use of mobile phones to access the Internet has exploded in the last few years. Many have limited support for Flash and Javascript, and they have small screen resolutions.
  • 6% of all web users don’t support Javascript, either because they have it turned off or because their web browser doesn’t support it. (Source: The Counter, December 2008 statistics.
  • Browsers such as Lynx do not support images. All browsers have the ability to switch images off. Would a visitor be able to use your website effectively if they were not able to see the images?
  • Supporting users with diabilities. Whether they are visually impaired, or are unable to use a mouse and rely solely on the keyboard, or touch screen. Many countries have laws that make it illegal to discriminate against disabled people. Link to law article.
  • Search engine spiders need to be able to access every page on your website, just by following links. They cannot enter terms into a search box and they cannot choose options from a drop-down box. Any page that is inaccessible will never feature in the search results.

How Do I Make My Website Accessible?

The W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative announced on 11 December 2008 that version 2 of its accessibility guidelines were finalised. They are a great resource for learning what steps to take to make your website accessible. Some of the steps are basic and very obvious, but there are many that you may not have heard about before.

This list outlines some of the more important steps that you should take to ensure that your website is accessible. Most of them should not be after thoughts, but things that you consider as you build your pages. Take a look at the W3C’s site for an exhaustive list.

Audio and Visual Content

Sites like Youtube are making an effort to make their videos more accessible to people who either cannot see them or cannot hear them. Subtitles (or Closed Captions) are a good idea for deaf visitors. It is not just about disbaled people however. What if I don’t have a sound card installed on my computer? Always provide alternatives. A text version of any audio is essential.

Don’t Confuse With Colour

Make sure text and background have a suitable contrast level. This is a basic rule, and doesn’t just affect people with visual impairments. There is a reason why black text on a white background is so popular.

Don’t highlight errors by simply changing their colour. For example if a page features a form and that form is validated on the client-side before it is submitted, ensure that any errors are highlighted clearly. This should include a text-based warning rather than simply changing fields colours to highlght an error.

Decorative Graphics

Never use graphics as spacers on a page. Use CSS for this, as it was intended. Any decorative images should be implemented in a way so that blocking them doesn’t affect the use of the page.

Make Text Readable

Text should be at a sufficient size. Additionally, the user should be able to adjust the text size using their browsers text size controls. You should never block this function.

Ensure headings are clear. The use of proper heading tags should ensure this.

Use A Proper Page Structure

Keep all your content and layout information separate by using stylesheets. Not only will this help people who diuse screen readers and text-based browsers, it also helps keep your code cleaner and easier to manage. It is easier to make layout changes if all the presentation data is an an external stylesheet.

Avoid Using A CAPTCHA As Much As Possible

CAPTCHAs are designed to prevent automatic registration by bots. They require the user to identify some obscured text to ensure the visitor is a real person and not a machine. Some argue that they are very effective. Few would argue against them being an accessibility nightmare. Decide if a Captcha is really necessary. For blocking comment spam, perhaps Akismet would be better.

Navigation Must Be Easy To Use

Navigation is something that needs a lot of thought put into it. Every page on your website must be accessible. If the only way to access your pages is through a javascript drop-down menu or a Flash menu, you need to rethink. This type of poor navigation doesn’t just impede disabled visitors. What about search engine spiders? What about people who don’t have the Flash plugin (still 1% of Internet users).

In Summary

These are just a few of the reasons why it is essential that your website is accessible. Not only will your website meet local accessibility laws, it will be spidered by search engines much more frequently and easily. You will find your traffic levels increase. You see, by creating an accessible website, everybody wins.

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2 comments for “Creating Accessible Websites”

  1. Some great tips. I also recommend using H1 – H6 tags in your HTML to make accessibility easier.

    Posted by Pinny Cohen | January 18, 2009, 1:27 am
  2. Valuable and excellent stuff you have here. Keep posting! I am always looking to read on that topic.

    Posted by Glendora Bassolino | July 26, 2010, 4:22 pm

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