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I’ve been studying about web accessibility lately and have been thinking about how the frustrations I run into on websites I visit would be compounded if I had a disability. By extension,  I’ve renewed my patience with my grandmother when it comes to the web.

I frequently use the keyboard to navigate around pages. If that was the only means of interfacing with the computer I had, there are several websites I wouldn’t be able to use at all because the creators failed to include “focus” as a state when setting the display of links in the CSS. Without the “focus” state specified, keyboard navigation can be difficult or impossible. If you don’t know where you are, there’s no telling where you’ll end up when you press RETURN.

I know someone who has severe sight problems and can basically only see one letter at a time on a large monitor. For him, surfing the web is probably easier using a screen reader. For those who need a screen reader, if the document has no structure, i.e. there are no headings, ordered lists, or tables (for tabular data only, folks!), then the user won’t be able to know what’s most important on the page or that the random items being read are actually in a table.

A relative of mine has hearing loss. It’s not profound, but it is enough that it affects how he uses the web. He’s less likely to listen to a podcast, since the audio on those isn’t always clean. But, more importantly, he then has no access to the content because, more often than not, there is no transcript provided. Fortunately, in my research I came across a website that will provide a free transcript for any podcast submitted. This is a real boon, since most transcription services charge, and quite a bit I might add.

Universal accessibility remains an ideal to which we should aspire, a fitting topic to be thinking about on this MLK day. If web developers make it a priority to ensure their mark-up is validated, that will be a good first step. Beyond that, pledging to adhere to the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to at least level A conformance will go a long ways to making the web accessible to all.

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