“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”
(Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the internet.)
It’s an admirable sentiment. It makes commercial sense, too. But is it always the case?
Website accessibility: hearing inaccessible websites in action
The blind man on the bus was obviously having difficulties. I could hear what his smartphone’s text-to-speech converter was reading out to him, and a lot of it was useless rubbish. By the time I got off the bus he’d tried to access at least five websites, all of which were about as far from user-friendly as it gets.
How frustrating must that be?
A surprising number of site owners don’t bother taking website accessibility into account when specifying site architecture and creating content. But non-compliance is a risky business because in Britain, disabled folk, including those with less than perfect eyesight, have the legal right to expect to access websites just like anyone else.
Get it wrong and you could be dragged through the courts. Does your website comply with disabled accessibility legislation?
Wikipedia on accessibility for the visually impaired
Here’s what Wikipedia says about it creating accessible sites for visually impaired people:
“Web accessibility refers to the inclusive practice of making websites usable by people of all abilities and disabilities. When sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, all users can have equal access to information and functionality. For example, when a site is coded with semantically meaningful HTML, with textual equivalents provided for images and with links named meaningfully, this helps blind users using text-to-speech software and/or text-to-Braille hardware. When text and images are large and/or enlargeable, it is easier for users with poor sight to read and understand the content. When links are underlined (or otherwise differentiated) as well as colored, this ensures that color blind users will be able to notice them.”
What about other disabilities?
In an ideal world, you also need to take into account people with motor/mobility issues, hearing difficulties, seizures and cognitive/intellectual difficulties. If you work B2C or are involved with ecommerce, it’s a must.
As a freelance writer who operates B2B, I use plain language. I give my images descriptive alt tags and so on. If I used video on my site – which I don’t – I’d provide captions, sign language or a text version. Yes, I do some accessibility-related stuff. But I know I could do more.
As Wikipedia goes on to say:
“When clickable links and areas are large, this helps users who cannot control a mouse with precision. When pages are coded so that users can navigate by means of the keyboard alone, or a single switch access device alone, this helps users who cannot use a mouse or even a standard keyboard. When videos are closed captioned or a sign language version is available, deaf and hard-of-hearing users can understand the video. When flashing effects are avoided or made optional, users prone to seizures caused by these effects are not put at risk. And when content is written in plain language and illustrated with instructional diagrams and animations, users with dyslexia and learning difficulties are better able to understand the content. When sites are correctly built and maintained, all of these users can be accommodated without decreasing the usability of the site for non-disabled users.
Reference sites to help you comply
“According to the World Health Organization, 285 million people have vision impairments. As web applications have grown rich and creative, they have become less accessible to these users.” (Google)
Here are some useful links to help you find out more about site accessibility:
- The W3C website – Home of the web accessibility initiative (WAI), and all about the WAI
- Google on website accessibility – Including an excellent course to take
- WebAim on all aspects of accessibility
- The BBC on web accessibility best practice
- A load of WAI accessibility evaluation resources
- The RNIB web accessibility centre, and the RNIB on UK law for websites
Listen to your own website via text to speech
If you want to hear what your site sounds like to someone with eyesight issues, the best way is to switch on your machine’s integral text to speech conversion tool and listen for yourself. Here’s some help with how to do it.