Web Accessibility Isn’t So Scary

I will be the first to admit that I am slowly, and with much trepidation, moving into the new world of web design. The whole concept can seem very daunting to someone who taught himself, more than ten years ago, everything he knows about designing for the web.

With the advent of XHTML standards, accessibility standards, web 2.0, CSS-driven sites, and everything else that goes into the new breed of web site, there is a lot to learn for someone that came into this whole scene, guns-a-blazing, back when the most annoying background image won the prize for the best web site, and scrolling marquees were a wonder to behold.

I have not been totally ignorant to the progress being made in the area of web standards over the last ten years, but I did feel, on more than one occasion, that I had been living under a rock for a while. I got that feeling five or six years ago when I first discovered the wonders of DHTML (the clever mix of HTML, javascript and CSS), and I felt that way again a little over a year ago when I became aware of “valid” HTML. As far as I had been concerned, up until that point, if my pages looked basically the same in all of the browsers, then my HTML was “valid”. Boy was I wrong. After a year of hard work, and dealing with about 15 different validation applications, I feel that I have that particular battle won (just in time for Firefox 2.0 and IE 7 to come out and change all of the rules again, I’m sure). However, I hadn’t even begun to delve into the “accessibility” standards that everyone’s been raving about for the last year or two. Again, with much trepidation, I began doing research into the hurdles I would have to overcome in order to propel myself forward into the new era of web design. What I found, however, was not nearly as scary as I had feared.

I did a quick Google search into “ADA web guidelines”, and almost immediately came across a rather ugly, but very informative page presented by “The Ohio State University“.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the guidelines laid out on that page, and how easy they are to implement.

A text equivalent for every non-text element shall be provided
Being that this is already required in order to validate your HTML code, this one is simple. Basically, any time you put an image on your site (or other non-text media, such as Flash, videos, etc.), you need to add the alt tag, and put a short explanation of what the media is supposed to represent.
Equivalent alternatives for any multimedia presentation shall be synchronized with the presentation
Again, this one should be fairly simple to implement. In most cases, when developing a multimedia presentation, you will have a script you’re working off of anyway, so adding that in, in the form of subtitles or captions should be fairly simple. Granted, I don’t work very much with multimedia presentations, but this would be something I would have done out of habit, anyway, being that I watch television with the captions on all the time (don’t ask – it’s a habit I picked up from an old college roommate, and it’s kind of stuck ever since).
Web pages shall be designed so that all information conveyed with color is also available without color, for example from context or markup
Simply put, you should have been doing this all along anyway. If you try to emphasize a note simply by changing it’s color, then you’re not really doing a very good job of conveying your message. 99.9% of the time, when I have a note I need to add, I put an asterisk next to the item that needs explanation, and I add the note at the bottom of the content. All I really need to do is locate those asterisks, and turn them into links that lead to the note itself (which I should have done in the first place, but probably didn’t in over half of the instances, simply out of laziness).
Ensure that foreground and background color combinations provide sufficient contrast when viewed by someone having color deficits or when viewed on black and white screen.
Again, this is just common courtesy, whether it’s done out of a desire to make your site accessible to people with diminished sight capabilities, or whether you’re simply trying not to make your visitors vomit when they get to your site.
Documents shall be organized so they are readable without requiring an associated style sheet.
This is one I hadn’t really ever thought of in the past, but, checking out most of my more recent sites, they’re made that way anyway. If they hadn’t been designed that way, though, I can only imagine the headaches I would have trying to get them re-designed in such a fashion.
Frames shall be titled with text that facilitates frame identification and navigation
You shouldn’t be using frames anyway, so you shouldn’t have to worry about this one.
A method shall be provided that permits users to skip repetitive navigation links.
Not a big deal. You just need to add a few anchors and a few links.
Do not change the current window without informing the user.
Again, similar to the frames comment above, this is something we’ve been railing against for at least 5 or 6 years, so you shouldn’t be doing this to begin with. If you are, “shame on you”.

So, as you can see, it’s really not as scary as it may sound from the beginning. At least, that’s the way I feel about it. What are your thoughts?