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Millions of people in the UK have some form of visual or motor impairment. Websites built with accessibility requirements in mind enable disabled users to surf the web more easily.
Building accessible websites is a legal requirement and also a sound business investment as people with disabilities have a combined income of over £50 billion at their disposal.
Non-disabled users can also benefit from accessible websites. Not all users have the latest browser versions. With more and more people using PDA’s and mobile phones to browse the internet consideration should be given to page download times and the use of Flash and Java Script in images and navigation.
Points to consider when designing an accessible website include the following:
Build One Website – It may be tempting to create a text only version of a website for disabled users. Research shows however that this can make users feel slighted as text only versions can present pared down information. It is far better to make your main website accessible and therefore inclusive of both the disabled and non disabled.
Give Users a Choice – Ensure that your website reacts to browser controls to increase font size. You can embed your own font controls or provide instructions as to how font can be increased. Many users who could benefit from increased font size do not know that such controls exist.
Some sites give users the option to change the colour scheme. This can be of use to people with certain visual impairments.
Stylesheets – Always use cascading stylesheets to separate document content (HTML & XHTML) from document presentation (CSS). This enables users with extremely poor vision to program in their own stylesheets. For instance a user may find it easier to read white text on a black background. If formatting is built into the html then styles can’t be overridden.
Page Layout – Make sure that your websites design is consistent from page to page. As users become familiar with a sites layout they expect elements to be located in the same place every time. Consistency is a benefit for both sighted and non sighted users.
Alt Tags - Screen readers have no way of understanding images therefore it is important that Alt tags are correctly used. Alt tags also provide information to users who view websites with graphics turned off and people who surf using text only browsers. Alt tags should include a short description of the image and should not be stuffed with keywords. Not only is this spamming the search engines it is also confusing for site users.
Site Navigation – Try to avoid using text embedded in images as navigational links. This can be difficult to read for users with visual impairments as the images can’t be resized using browser controls. If this is unavoidable then using size 16 point font would be advantageous.
A well designed website built to current standards and with accessibility in mind not only improves the user experience, it can also have the added benefit of improving your search engine rankings.
A win win situation for all.
As web designers, we all seem to go on quite a bit about web standards and backwards compatibility. The way web design works at the moment, standards are often seen as an optional extra. Most people know that they should be making standards compliant, validating code, but often they get pushed to the side until the very last moment. Although pages like this often work in browsers, its hardly a good way to design a page and it is definitely not a good idea.
I learned the other day that the developers of IE8 were planning on implementing a system where a web designer will have to put a new tag in their HTML in order make use of the latest CSS3 and XHTML tags. As if the current problems with Doctypes, quirks mode and browser rendering problems weren’t enough of an issue without IE8 implementing more proprietary code into HTML. So from now on, If you want your site to render in a new standards compliant mode in IE8 you will now need to add the following meta data:
<meta http-equiv=”X-UA-Compatible” content=”IE=8″ />
Site owners are understandably wanting to keep their web sites viewable to all browser types, but how long should designer keep using the same tired old CSS hacks, ignoring the new CSS2 and CSS3 specifications and implementing PNG hacks simply to satisfy the IE market?
As designers we all still feel that IE6 is used by enough users (still around 20-30%) to warrant the extra work needed to make it accessible for these users. But IE6’s days are hopefully numbered.