Make Your Site Accessible


The World Wide Web is a wonderful and endless resource for the Whole Wide World and anyone can find anything they want.

Unfortunately, a great number of individuals are left out of this electronic information free-for-all. According to the Web Consortium, between ten and twenty percent of many populations live with disabilities. Not all of these disabilities affect access to the Web, however the percentage remains significant. The number of people who use the Web is steadily increasing. It is often critical for people with disabilities to have access to information on the Internet that is not available to them otherwise. If your site does not follow the bare minimum rules for accessibility, you are alienating these individuals from accessing your business or information.

In fact, the Justice Department feels the Americans with Disabilities Act that requires businesses to make themselves accessible to people with disabilities should apply to websites as well. It may sound like an enormous process to make your site accessible, but a few modest alterations can make a huge difference to people trying to access information on your site.

Follow these rudimentary steps to make your site navigable and your information available to a much wider audience.

Make Labels Make Sense

One of the most important steps in creating your website is contextual labels. People who are not able to see a website can't read the content or navigate around the site. Often they use text editors. Tools are available that can read the contents of a page to a viewer. This is fine and dandy until the viewer is told that the story is illustrated with a fine example of image1.gif. Even worse are poorly labeled images that are used for navigation. How would anyone know whether they should click on black_arrow.jpeg or green_square.gif to continue their quest?

Use the ALT tag within any image tag as an alternative to people surfing with text browsers. You can set the ALT tag to equal a proper description.

<IMG SRC="home.gif" ALT="Click here to return to the home page">

You most likely have seen the ALT tag in action. Most browsers will display the contents of the ALT tag when the cursor is placed over that object.

  • When using graphs, maps, animations, or illustrative graphics that your content relies on, provide explanations either on the page or within the ALT tag.

  • Label sections of image maps.

  • Provide text or captioning for video, or sound clips.

  • Use text that makes sense when creating a link. Rather than a plain "click here" add some useful information regarding what will happen when the user clicks here.

Organize and be Consistent

The organization of your site can be terribly important to viewers with disabilities. Some browsers allow you to skip from link to link with the keys on your keyboard. If you place all your links in a big wad at the top of the screen with images, your viewers will have to click, click, click for an eternity before finding any content worth reading.

Consider organizing your navigation to the left, below an intro, or place them at the bottom. You may also include links within your text as necessary.

Be consistent in the design of your site. Use headers and titles on each page and try to keep the structure of your website consistent. This way, once a viewer has figured out how to navigate your site, they won't be faced with a new challenge when landing on each new page.

Alternatives for Fancy Formats

HTML features such as frames and tables can make surfing difficult. If you must use frames, provide a NOFRAMES tag that provides a version of your site accessible to those who can't use frames. Also be sure to give a title to each frame and each page called into a frame so one may navigate between the frames.

If you use tables, be sure to keep text in readable chunks. Dividing text between table cells for the sake of a prettier site can lead to pure garble when read by the browser.

Some scripts, applets, and plug-ins may not be accessible. If any information or functionality of your site depends on these features, make sure you provide alternate content and/or navigation.

Finally, test the accessibility of your site with a tool like Bobby. Enter the URL of the site to test and Bobby will present you with a list of problem areas on your site. It will even provide you with proper syntax and methods for making your site Bobby appoved.

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