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Web accessibility

Web Design & Development Guide

Web accessibility

Home | Web Content Accessibility Guidelines


Web accessibility refers to the practice of making websites usable by people of all abilities and disabilities. When sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, all users can have equal access to information and functionality. For example, when a site is coded with semantically meaningful HTML, with textual equivalents provided for images and with links named meaningfully, this helps blind users using text-to-speech software and/or text-to-Braille hardware. When text and images are large and/or enlargable, it is easier for users with poor sight to read and understand the content. When links are underlined (or otherwise differentiated) as well as coloured, this ensures that colour blind users will be able to notice them. When clickable links and areas are large, this helps users who cannot control a mouse with precision. When pages are coded so that users can navigate by means of the keyboard alone, or a single switch access device alone, this helps users who cannot use a mouse or even a standard keyboard. When videos are closed captioned or a sign language version is available, deaf and hard of hearing users can understand video. When flashing effects are avoided or made optional, users prone to seizures caused by these effects are not put at risk. And when content is written in plain language and illustrated with instructional diagrams and animations, users with dyslexia and learning difficulties are better able to understand the content. When sites are correctly built and maintained, all of these users can be accommodated while not impacting on the usability of the site for non-disabled users.

The needs that Web accessibility aims to address include:

  • Visual: Visual impairments including blindness, various common types of low vision and poor eyesight, various types of colour blindness;
  • Motor/Mobility: e.g. difficulty or inability to use the hands, including tremors, muscle slowness, loss of fine muscle control, etc., due to conditions such as Parkinson's Disease, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, stroke;
  • Auditory: Deafness or hearing impairments, including individuals who are hard of hearing;
  • Seizures: Photoepileptic seizures caused by visual strobe or flashing effects.
  • Cognitive/Intellectual: Developmental disabilities, learning disabilities (dyslexia, dyscalculia, etc.), and cognitive disabilities of various origins, affecting memory, attention, developmental "maturity," problem-solving and logic skills, etc.;

Assistive technologies used for web browsing

Disabled users use assistive technologies such as the following to enable and assist web browsing:

  • Screen reader software, which can read out, using synthesised speech, either selected elements of what is being displayed on the monitor (helpful for users with reading or learning difficulties), or which can read out everything that is happening on the PC (used by blind and vision impaired users).
  • Braille terminals, consisting of a Refreshable Braille display which renders text as Braille characters (usually by means of raising pegs through holes in a flat surface) and either a QWERTY or Braille keyboard.
  • Screen magnification software, which enlarges what is displayed on the computer monitor, making it easier to read for vision impaired users.
  • Speech recognition software that can accept spoken commands to the computer, or turn dictation into grammatically correct text - useful for those who have difficulty using a mouse or a keyboard.
  • Keyboard overlays which can make typing easier and more accurate for those who have motor control difficulties.

Guidelines on accessible web design

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

In 1999 the Web Accessibility Initiative, a project by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), published the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG 1.0. In recent years, these have been widely accepted as the definitive guidelines on how to create accessible websites.

Since 2003, the WAI has been working on the second edition of these guidelines, the WCAG 2.0, which aim to be up to date and more technology neutral. This is currently at the Working Draft stage.

Criticism of WAI guidelines

In articles such as WCAC 2.0: The new W3C guidelines evaluated, To Hell with WCAG 2.0 and Testability Costs Too Much, the WAI has been criticised for allowing WCAG 1.0 to get increasingly out of step with today's technologies and techniques for creating and consuming web content, for the slow pace of development of WCAG 2.0, for making the new guidelines difficult to navigate and understand, and other argued failings. In one attempt to provide guidelines that are designed to be up to date, easier to understand, and more relevant and practical to typical web development projects, Joe Clark's WCAG Samurai project has published an unofficial set of errata to WCAG 1.0.

Other guidelines

Philippines

As part of the Web Accessibility Initiatives in the Philippines, the government through the National Council for the Welfare of Disabled Persons (NCWDP) board approved the recommendation of forming an adhoc or core group of webmasters that will help in the implementation of the Biwako Millennium Framework set by the UNESCAP.

The Philippines was also the place where the Interregional Seminar and Regional Demonstration Workshop on Accessible Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) to Persons with Disabilities was held where eleven countries from Asia - Pacific were represented. The Manila Accessible Information and Communications Technologies Design Recommendations was drafted and adopted in 2003.

United Kingdom

In the UK, the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) in collaboration with BSI have published Pas 78 which outlines good practice in commissioning accessible websites.

Legally required web accessibility

A growing number of countries around the world have introduced legislation which either directly addresses the need for websites and other forms of communication to be accessible to people with disabilities, or which addresses the more general requirement for people with disabilities not to be discriminated against.

Australia

In 2000, an Australian blind man won a court case against the Sydney Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (SOCOG). This was the first successful case under Disability Discrimination Act 1992 because SOCOG had failed to make their official website, Sydney Olympic Games, adequately accessible to blind users. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) also published World Wide Web Access: Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes. All Governments in Australia also have policies and guidelines that require accessible public websites; Vision Australia maintain a complete list of Australian web accessibility policies.

Ireland

In Ireland, the Disability Act 2005 was supplemented with the National Disability Authority's Code of Practice on Accessible Public Services in July 2006. It is a practical guide to help all Government Departments and nearly 500 public bodies to comply with their obligations under the Disability Act 2005.

United Kingdom

In the UK, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) does not refer explicitly to website accessibility, but makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities. The DDA applies to anyone providing a service; public, private and voluntary sectors. The Code of Practice: Rights of Access - Goods, Facilities, Services and Premises document published by the government's Disability Rights Commission to accompany the Act does refer explicitly to websites as one of the "services to the public" which should be considered covered by the Act.

United States

In the U.S., the Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that Federal agencies and their contractors give disabled employees and members of the public access to information (including web sites) that is comparable to the access available to others; the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability; and Section 225 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires suppliers to make telecommunications products and services accessible unless not requiring significant difficulty or expense. It is complicated, and dependent on case law, exactly how the latter two apply to Web site accessibility.

On September 7, 2006, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel ruled in National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corporation that a retailer with a physical storefront may be sued if its website is inaccessible to the blind. However, Judge Patel did not rule on the merits of the plaintiff's case, which will be adjudicated at a later date.

Website accessibility audits

A growing number of organisations, companies and consultants offer website accessibility audits. These audits, a type of system testing, identify accessibility problems that exist within a website, and provide advice and guidance on the steps that need to be taken to correct these problems.

A range of methods are used to audit websites for accessibility:

  • Automated tools are available which can identify some of the problems that are present.
  • Expert technical reviewers, knowledgeable in web design technologies and accessibility, can review a representative selection of pages and provide detailed feedback and advice based on their findings.
  • User testing, usually overseen by technical experts, involves setting tasks for ordinary users to carry out on the website, and reviewing the problems these users encounter as they try to carry out the tasks.

Each of these methods has its strengths and weaknesses:

  • Automated tools can process many pages in a relatively short length of time, but can only identify some of the accessibility problems that might be present in the website.
  • Technical expert review will identify many of the problems that exist, but the process is time consuming, and many websites are too large to make it possible for a person to review every page.
  • User testing combines elements of usability and accessibility testing, and is valuable for identifying problems that might otherwise be overlooked, but needs to be used knowledgeably to avoid the risk of basing design decisions on one user's preferences.

Ideally, a combination of methods should be used to assess the accessibility of a website.

See also

References

  • Thatcher, Jim; Cynthia Waddell, Shawn Henry, Sarah Swierenga, Mark Urban, Michael Burks, Paul Bohman (2003). Constructing Accessible Web Sites, Reprint, Apress (Previously by Glasshaus). ISBN 1-59059-148-8. 
  • Slatin, John; Sharron Rush (2002). Maximum Accessibility: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone. Addison-Wesley Professional. ISBN 0-201-77422-4. 

External links

Standards and guidelines

Government regulations

Resources for users

Resources for designers

Web accessibility checkers

Disability/Impairment Simulators and Other Tools

Web browser accessibility features


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Web Design & Development Guide, made by MultiMedia | Websites for sale

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

 

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