Web Accessibility 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 the articles, Benefits of an accessible website – part 1 and Benefits of an accessible website – part 2 for more about the importance of web accessibility.

Your website must be able to function with all different browsing technologies

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, CSS, images, JavaScript, Flash or audio and video content
  • 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 JavaScript and large images
  • 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

Web Accessibility Myths

The Disability Discrimination Act says that web sites must be made accessible to disabled people. The DRC’s recent report has suddenly thrown this into the spotlight of the online community and a lot of misinformation has been thrown around. This article attempts to put a stop to this and tell you the truth behind web accessibility.

1. Creating a text-only equivalent is sufficient

10 Common Errors When Implementing Accessibility

Web developers attempting to build accessible websites often make the same mistakes time and time again. Although they’re trying their hardest sometimes their overzealousness gets in the way and actually hinders the accessibility of their websites.

The below 10 guidelines tell you what not to do, so you too don’t fall foul to these same common accessibility errors…

Web Accessibility and Learning Difficulties

Accessibility is about making it as easy as possible for all members of society to fully take part in that society. It is about removing barriers. It is about inclusion and empowerment. It is about creating the sort of world that we all want to live in – a message that should resonate with us all.

Where the UK government stands

This year, the UK government gave “a clear commitment to ensuring that all government websites and online services present no barriers to use for those with disabilities” (source: Connecting the UK). It has also promised “a renewed focus on the use of e-inclusion as a route to social inclusion” (source: Office of the Deputy Prime Minister).

Where are we now?

Accessibility’s profile within the Internet industry has never been higher, which is a good thing for all those people who have benefited from the improvements that have been made to a large number of websites.

Unfortunately, most people’s understanding of accessibility relates exclusively to visually-impaired users – to the point, in fact, where these two terms are often used interchangeably.

Well, it’s time that we all realised that there are other groups of users out there who need – and deserve – support.

Where should we be?

The Code of Practice for part III of the Disability discrimination Act defines a disabled person as:

“Someone who has a physical or mental impairment which has an effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”

People with learning difficulties have received a particularly raw deal (it’s estimated that some 2 million people in the UK have learning difficulties). This audience group is even mentioned specifically in the Code of Practice:

  • “5.22 – In many cases, a service provider will need to consider providing auxiliary aids or services to improve communication with people with learning disabilities.”
  • “5.28 – For example, a customer with a learning disability may be able to access a service by the provision of documents in large, clear print and plain language or by the use of colour coding and illustrations.”

Some advice

Webcredible’s analysis of usability testing sessions involving participants with learning difficulties has led to our suggesting these guidelines when designing for these users:

  • Your website should behave as consistently as possible, and have a consistent appearance/look-and-feel (e.g. all links and buttons should look and behave in the same way)
  • Avoid using words in their non-literal sense (e.g. “it’s raining cats and dogs”)
  • Avoid using abstractions (e.g. provide a link to a telephone number rather than to ‘Contact us’ )
  • Provide clearly signposted, simplified summaries of pages’ content at the top of the page
  • Provide an audio version of a site’s content
  • Break information into small, simple chunks and illustrate them visually wherever possible
  • Always provide an obvious way for users to get back to simpler content if they find themselves on a page above their reading level
  • Increase the spacing between lines of text
  • Increase the spacing between paragraphs
  • Increase the distance between the text and the underline in links (you can use the CSS border-bottom property to underline links and achieve this)
  • Increase the target area of navigation links (again, you can do this with CSS)

This article was written by Tim Fidgeon, Head of Usability at Webcredible. He’s crazy about usability and runs Webcredible’s web usability training and is passionate about user centered design.