A law was passed in 1990 by Congress called the Americans with Disabilities Act. The aim of that law was to protect physically or mentally disabled people from being discriminated against. The act was mainly established in order to guarantee that there are equal opportunities given to disabled people in any public area – the law must cover employment regulations as well as regulations on state and local government services, telecommunications and transportation. We will get back to this issue later.
Now, if you take some time to reflect on your Website, have you done everything possible in order to insure that your website can be easily accessible?
Below is a checklist you can apply, in order to decide if your Website is as accessible as it possibly could be. (take note that these actions fluctuate from fairly simple to complicated, and this list is by no means the only option or action you can make use of to make your site more accessible).
1. For every non-text element on your site, have you provided a text equivalent? Non-text elements consist of: images, graphical representations of text (as well as symbols), animations (as well as animated GIFs), areas for map images, programmed objects and applets, ASCII art, scripts, spacers, frames, list bullet images, buttons, sounds (whether automatic or by user interaction), video, audio tracks of video and stand alone audio files.
2. Have you made sure that all your coloured content is also available without it?
3. Have you made sure that all the alterations in the natural language of all the pages on your Website as well as all text equivalents (like captions for example) are clearly recognized?
4. Have you organized all the documents on your Website so that you can read them without using a style sheet?
5. Regarding your dynamic content, do you update all equivalents for it each time you update the actual dynamic content in question?
6. Have you gotten rid of any special effects from your Website that could cause the screen to glimmer?
7. Have you been using clear and uncomplicated language in all the content put on your Website?
8. Do you make use of images and image maps, and if so, are you providing redundant text links for every active space of your server-side image map?
9. If you make use of images and image maps, do you, whenever it is possible, provide client-side image maps (instead of server-side)?
10. When you use data tables, are the row and column headers easily identifiable?
11. When you make use of frames, have you given a title to each frame in order to make navigation and frame identification easier for your users?
12. When you make use of scripts and applets, are you confident that the pages can be used when the programmatic objects are not supported, or when they are switched off? (If that is not possible, did you present the information on another page which is accessible?)
13. When you use multimedia, are you sure there is an audio description of the most important visual content?
14. When you use any multimedia presentation (such as a movie or animation) which is time-based, have you coordinated all the equivalent alternatives like captions or auditory descriptions of the visual content to the audio production?
15. Are the background and foreground colours of your Website rendered with sufficient contrast so that people with black and white screens and colour deficits can still read it visibly?
16. Are the targets of each of your links clearly identifiable?
17. Is there a space where people can get general information on your site, with a site map for example, or a table of contents?
18. Is the primary language of your Website clearly visible?
19. Have you offered enough information for users to choose how they want to receive documents – by language or content type, etc.)?
20. Are all the tables on your site equipped with summaries?
Here are some simple steps you can take that don’t require much work or technical ability:
Graphics and Charts:
When working with graphics and charts, make sure you have given enough information so that all the graphics or charts won’t be required in order to understand the article, but can just be supplements to it. You may also make use of the “alt” tag in order to offer information about them.
Do provide alternative text for any space where the visitor can click on your Website, so that if they have switched the graphics off, or can’t see them, they will still understand the purpose of your site and will be able navigate around it. (Note: This method still doesn’t apply to all browsers, but it’s a start!)
When using headers, use the “th” attribute in order that visitors with a visual disability will be able to “hear” the table headers from their screen reader.
When you make use of hypertext links, use some text that will make sense to a screen reader when it reads to a visitor with a visual disability.
When you write your sales copy, use the “em” element instead of the “b” tag. Through using the emphasis tag, a screen reader’s tone will modify, which will add emphasis to what is written on the screen. When you use a bold tag, the screen reader won’t recognize the difference, and all the text will be read with the same tone.
Multimedia (Video, applets, and Plug-ins):
When using multimedia, try to provide alternatives. For example, if you are using streaming video, which contains sounds or dialog, the two best options for you would be to either use closed-captioning for the video or to provide a textual version for the dialogue. (This will also help non-visually disabled viewers who might have a dial up instead of a DSL, or for times when the amateur video sound quality is weak.
When you make use of applets or plug-ins, look for other methods of presenting information such as text links. Do this however without relying on the applet or plug-in for navigating around your Webpages.
So, the question you might be asking yourself now is how does one know if their Website meets the guidelines for accessibility?
The answer is to use the Bobby Program. “Bobby” is a free Java-based program that will search through your Website in order to check for its accessibility. Although it doesn’t analyze page content, it can analyze all the coding and readability of your Website.
If you would like to know how accessible your Website is already considered to be, you can just go to: http://webxact.watchfire.com/
WebXACT is a free online service that can allow you to run tests for single pages of web content to check for quality, accessibility, and privacy issues.
If you would like to find out more about how accessible your website is, or if you know somebody who needs information or needs to access resources for any kind of disability, you can find more information from the links below: http://www.gatech.edu/accessibility/
AWARE: Accessible Web Authoring Resources & Education http://www.awarecenter.org/
Bobby Version 3.2 http://www.cast.org/bobby/
CSS2 Tutorial http://www.dynamicdeezign.com/css/introduction.html
IBM Accessibility Center http://www-3.ibm.com/able/
IBM: Java Accessibility http://www-3.ibm.com/able/accessjava.html
Is YOUR Website Accessible? http://www.janejarrow.com/tv_station/webaccess/
WAI (Website Accessibility Initiative) http://www.w3.org/WAI/
J.M. Stevens is contributing editor at WebDesignArticles.net. This article may be reproduced provided that its complete content, links and author byline are kept intact and unchanged. No additional links permitted. Hyperlinks and/or URLs must remain both human clickable and search engine spiderable.