Web accessibility: The basics
What is web accessibility & why is it important?
Web accessibility is about making your website accessible
to all Internet users (both disabled and non-disabled), regardless of
what browsing technology they're using. In addition to complying with
the law, an accessible website can reap huge benefits on to your
website and your business.
Please read our articles, Benefits
of an accessible website - part 1 and Benefits
of an accessible website - part 2 for more about the importance of
Your website must be able to function with all different browsing
The first and perhaps the most important rule of web accessibility. Not
everyone is using the latest version of Internet Explorer, with all the
plug-ins and programs that you may require them to have for your website.
Different browsing technologies can include:
- Lynx browser - Text-only browser with no support for tables,
- WebTV - 560px in width with horizontal scrolling not available
- Screen reader - Page content read aloud in the order it appears
in the HTML document
- Handheld device - Very small screen with limited support for
- Screen magnifier - As few as three to four words may be able
to appear on the screen at any one time
- Slow connection (below 56kb) - Users may turn off images to
enable a faster download time
- 1600px screen width - Very wide screen
This basically means that you must provide alternatives to:
- Images - in the form of ALT text
- Flash - with HTML equivalents
- Audio & video - by using written transcripts
You must also be careful how your pages look when support for CSS
and/or tables has been removed.
There are two good ways you can test for all this:
Forms need to be accessible to all web users
When a web user fills out a form it's a great thing. People fill
out forms to:
- Buy a product
- Sign up to a newsletter
- Ask a question
These are the goals of your website! A site visitor may look through
your site, decides he likes what he sees and tries to sign up to your
...But the form's inaccessible to him so he clicks away and you lose
a potential customer. Most forms on the web are inaccessible. The two
main reasons for this are:
- Prompt text is incorrectly positioned
- Prompt text is unassigned to form items
(Prompt text is the text that appears next to each form item, for example,
name, email, comments)
To find out more please read this article about making
your forms accessible.
It should be easy for all users to quickly process the content on
We generally don't read web pages. We scan,
trying to find what we're looking for as quickly as possible. On a regular
monitor, we scroll down the page looking at the items that stand out from
the rest of the text: headings, links, bold text and bullet
points. Non-keyboard and visually impaired users often scan pages
by tabbing between headings or links.
Make sure that you use headings, links, bold text and bullet points
and that they contain descriptive text. For example, never use
click here for link text.
Structure and presentation should be completely separated
By separating structure and presentation your website will be flexible
enough to be ready for the future of the Internet: PDAs, mobile
phones, in-car browsers, WebTV and 1600px screens.
The structure of a document is how it is organised, usually with
navigational menu items, headings, sub-headings, paragraphs, lists, and
links. The presentation of a document is how these words and images
are presented to the end user.
The main principle behind this is to use CSS and not tables to lay
out your web pages. Check out our CSS
resources area for lots of CSS tips and information.
There's more to separating structure and presentation than just laying
your web pages out with CSS. Have
a look at this HTML element list that tells you which elements are
structural and which are presentational. You can, and should, avoid using
presentational elements as they may cause your website to become inaccessible
to certain users.
The end user should have control over your web pages
All web users have unique requirements for how they use the Internet,
depending on the kind of browser they're using or any kind of handicap
or disability they may have. By handing control back to your users they'll
be able to use your website in the way that best suits them.
This could mean allowing users to resize text, warning them when links
are going to open in a new window, or providing a link at the top of the
screen that takes the user directly to the page content.
|About the author
This article was written by Trenton Moss. He's crazy about web usability
and accessibility - so crazy that he went and started his own web
usability and accessibility consultancy to help make the Internet
a better place for everyone.
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