(Site Identification)

'Eye' Focus: Web Support Tutorials

Web Accessibility: Standards

What is an Accessible Web Site?

An accessible web site can properly convey it's message whether the visitor cannot see, cannot hear, or both. This is accomplished by designing the site to allow assistive technologies to deliver the message to those individuals.

With a carefully prepared site it is possible to have one web site and one design deliver your intended message to all visitors. The process actually saves work and reaches a larger audience in one operation.

(to Top) Why Bother with Accessibility?

To explain the importance of an accessible web site, let me refer you to an article, SitePoint: How to Sell Accessibility.

To help you prepare your web site please review the Web Accessibility Checklist. This checklist addresses the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C's WAI) and the United States' Section 508 Accessibility rules and requirements for being accessible on the Web. More information on accessibility with the Web is provided below.

(to Top) What are Assistive Technologies?

Assistive technologies provide a service by adjusting the ability to utilize things most of us take for granted every day. With the Internet, examples where assistive technologies are used include: watching a video, listening to music, or simply surfing the web.

To watch a video one needs to be able to see the video clearly. Some devices allow the visitor to control the size and play speed so that the content can be seen and understood. However, if the video cannot be seen or easily understood then some textual and/or aural content needs to be provided.

To listen to music one needs to be able to hear the music. It could be that the visitor cannot hear (hearing problems, noisy environment) or the sound will not play (no sound card, incompatible file type). Textual content needs to be provided for any sound used by the site. The textual content could also be useful to assist in the understanding of the message by allowing the visitor read along with the sound track.

Understand that not all your visitors can blaze through the Internet with high speed connections. It has been reported that some 20% to 30% of all web surfers, most notably by those who use dial-up modems, browse with image loading turned off. Add to that the visitors that cannot see your images and you can have a problem. This means that information conveyed solely in your images will be missed by a large audience.

Even those visitors that load and can see your site's images may not be getting your message. Due to a color deficiency in vision, or a limitation of the system your visitor uses, your visitor may not get the full message. Approximately seven percent of all males and one percent of all females have some color deficiency. Perhaps the visitor is using a low resolution monitor or a gray scale wireless device. These limitations can reduce the chance that the message you present, in the image or by color, is ultimately received by the visitor.

Some devices or technologies may not deliver things the way you might have intended. Some devices may not (or only partially) support style sheet definitions, or they don't support tables, or images, or may not support any colors other than some basic gray scales, or a mix of these exclusions might apply. When designing a site, all of these issues must be considred to be able to ensure that your content is delivered in an understandable format.

(to Top) How are Some Assistive Technologies Used?

Streaming Media, both audio and video, is handled on the web by a variety of languages. These languages allow for the coordination of video, audio, and/or textual content to be synchronized, providing an accessible form of the content to all audiences. One product, NCAM's MAGpie (Media Access Generator), is designed to assist in the production of this content in a variety of these programming languages.

Screen Readers can deliver the textual content of your site aurally (via a speech processor) or physically (via a Braille device) to your visitor. A list of many of these products can be found at the Equal Access to Software and Information web site.

A very good example of how screen readers are actually used is the "Introduction to the Screen Reader" with Neal Ewers. This example provides a QuickTime video of a screen reader in use.

Proper use of simple punctuation is a MAJOR step in increasing the accessibility of your pages. Punctuation helps to assist with having the page read properly. Writers who assume the page can be 'seen' generally neglect the need for punctuation. Though the sighted can see the relationship of content via the layout, the visually impaired get none of this relationship. As a result the screen readers read the content all jumbled together as one sentence without pause, and often out of sequence.

For accessibility compliance checking see the Web Accessibility Checklist.

[Updated: Sunday, November 18, 2007]