Creating an accessible web site need not be difficult nor extremely time-consuming. With some forethought prior to beginning the design, accessible elements can be implemented as the site is built. To develop an accessible web site, one does not need to be an expert on adaptive equipment—although a familiarity can be helpful. When developing your web site, thinking in terms of usability can help guide your efforts.
Following good design principles that make your site more usable for everyone also resolves many of the accessibility problems that exist. When it comes to Web design, “inaccessibility” means that a feature is not compatible with the variety of ways in which people access the Internet.
The following are the principles of accessible design as identified by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
- Principle I: Content must be perceivable.
- Principle II: Interface elements in the content must be operable.
- Principle III: Content and controls must be understandable.
- Principle IV: Content must be robust enough to work with current and future technologies.
(from WCAG 2.0 - Accessibility Design Principles - www.w3.org/TR/2004/WD-WCAG20-20040730/)
These principles take into consideration the fact that not everyone interacts with Web content in the same way. Some use a mouse; others use the keyboard to navigate. Some interact with the content visually, while others listen to the content using speech output software. Some surf the net on their desktop computer; others use their cell phones.
Principle I: Perceivable
- Images, charts and graphics are described with alt tags (”alt” stands for alternative text) or long descriptions.
- There should be good contrast between text and background.
- Captions and audio transcripts are provided for video clips or audio clips.
- Color alone is not be used to convey meaning.
Principle II: Operable
- Links or buttons can be accessed by tabbing through them on the keyboard and tabbing through takes you to each link in the expected order.
- A method to skip navigation is provided so that users can go directly to the content of the page.
- “Roll-overs” with fly-out navigation are also accessible by tabbing.
- Multimedia players can be operated with the keyboard and offer the same functionality as is available for mouse users.
Principle III: Understandable
- Links clearly describe the page to which they link.The page is structured with the proper use of headings.
- Data tables are structured so that the header cells are marked.
- The page reads in the expected order even if CSS is turned off.
Principle IV: Robust
- Code is clean and follows protocol that makes it compatible with a variety of browsers and assistive technologies.
Universal Design of Web Environments
Just as the principles of universal design can be applied to built environments and instruction, they can also be applied to the Web environment. Creating equitable and inclusive Web environments means having one site that is usable by everyone—as opposed to creating a primary site and a “text only” version. The “text only” approach could be compared to the “separate but equal” approach, which, in reality, usually turns out to be less than equal. Instead, Web designers should employ practices that separate meaning and content from design and style. When style and design are applied to a document through the use of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), the content remains meaningful independent of those styles. As a result, the features and functionality added to a site will degrade gracefully. That is, if a person is using a browser or assistive technology device that does not recognize the latest bells and whistles, the content of the page remains intact.
There are additional benefits to this approach. The separation of style from content results in greater sustainability because changes can be made in a single document—the style sheet—rather than throughout the entire site. It also lends your site to a content management approach of maintenance in which content authors can edit the content easily without being familiar with HTML or other markup languages.
Web Design at UALR
The Web Services Team at UALR has employed the principles of universal design in their approach to Web design and maintenance. Prior to the employment of this approach, maintaining an accessible Web presence at UALR required that those responsible for accessibility interface continuously with several dozen departments and entities. Because Web design was often in the hands of graduate students or contract employees, the process of educating about accessibility was ongoing and not sustainable. Once UALR moved to a one design-many iterations approach to the Web presence, energy could be focused on providing technical assistance to a much smaller number of designers.
Dive into Accessibility
National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM)
Trace Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Resource on Designing More Usable Websites
University of Washington, DO-IT - Web Accessibility Page
University of Wisconsin - Madison, Center for Education and Work
WebAIM - Web Accessibility in Mind
World Wide Web Consortium’s Getting Started Page
Books - Available in Project PACE Resource Library
Adaptive Technologies for Learning and Work Environments (2nd edition). Lazzaro, J. (2001). American Library Association.
Building Accessible Websites (with CD-ROM). Clark, J. (2002). New Riders Publishing.
Cascading Style Sheets: A Beginner’s Guide. (2001). Pence, James. McGraw Hill Publishing.
Computer and Web Resources for People with Disabilities: A Guide to Exploring Today’s Assistive Technology. The Alliance for Technology Access
Constructing Accessible Web Sites. (2002). Thatcher, J., Waddell, C., Henry, S., Swierenga, S., Urban, M., Burks, M., Regan, B., Bohman, P. Glasshaus, LTD.
The Simplified Web Accessibility Guide. Hyatt, Glenda Watson. (2002).
Web Site Design Made Easy. Gaskill, D.
Videos and DVDS - Available in Project PACE Resource Library
Stobie, J. (Producer/Director). 2004. Freedom Machines. Richard Cox Productions.
Tapes of video conferences:
Assistive Technology and Universal Design.
Untangling the Web: Making Online Teaching and Learning Accessible.