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Creating an accessible website need not be difficult nor extremely time-consuming. With some forethought before 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 website, 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 – https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/)
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.