What Is Web Accessibility?

Everyone needs to have an idea of what web accessibility is, and how they can make their site available to everyone. It’s not just about catering for disabled users, but to anyone with a web connection. Ignoring web accessibility is shooting yourself in the foot, alienating large numbers of potential readers.

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The basics

The idea behind web accessibility is ensuring that everyone, regardless of their platform, browser or personal situation can easily browse your website. This often (but not always) involves the need for the following things:

  • High contrast versions of your pages being available
  • Alternate text being placed on links and images
  • Links being appropriately named, for those with text-to-speech browsers
  • Testing your site without Javascript and CSS turned on
  • Providing appropriate META data

It’s not just about disability…

Obviously, designing our websites with disabled users in mind is an important task, and something we shouldn’t take lightly. But the fact is that web accessibility applies to so many other areas as well. If you’re browsing websites on your iPhone, 3G Phone or even WAP mobile, you’d better hope that the designer considered accessibility when putting the site together. Nowadays, people can browse the internet on a TV or game console, kiosk machine, handheld computer, or even a fridge! Ensuring your designs are accessible mean that you don’t prevent these people from visiting your site.

…but that’s also important!

Disabled users struggle when accessing websites for many reasons. Those who have sight problems won’t be able to pick out your intricate colour scheme, so providing an alternate – high contrast – CSS document will allow them to see your site clearly. Distinguishing links may also be a problem, so providing clear roll-over effects makes it obvious what can be clicked.

For the same reason, text-to-speech browsers are available which read out the contents of a web page to the visitor. Using ALT text for images and clearly labeling links is vital here, so that someone can navigate your website without actually having the visual elements.

People commonly also struggle to use a mouse and keyboard easily, and so use voice controlled browsers and software.

Accessibility statistics

According to W3Schools, around 6% of web users have Javascript turned off in their browser, or use a browser which doesn’t support it. This alone is enough of a reason to consider what your website looks like without Javascript, or other technologies such as CSS, Multimedia, Flash etc.

In May-June of 2001, about 38% of adults with disabilities used the Internet at home, compared to about 56% of adults without disabilities, a gap of 18 percentage points. In December 1998, about 7% of adults with disabilities used the Internet at home, compared to about 26% of adults without disabilities, a gap of 19 percentage points. In that 2.5 year period, the rate of home Internet use increased by more than 400% among persons with disabilities ( from 7% to 38%), compared to about 200% among persons without disabilities (from 26% to 56%). If the Internet use by persons with disabilities continues at the same growth rate, it should match the Internet use of the non-disabled in a few years.

(*Source: National Organization on Disability, 2001)

This excerpt from CSUN shows that a large percentage of disabled people do use the internet, and that it is continuing to grow yearly. In the USA, around 7 percent of internet users are registered as having some form of disability. It’s vital not to forget about this section of your audience, and consider accessibility in design.