I was recently admitted to the Guild of Accessible Web Designers. This is a big deal for me, since accessibility has been a focus of mine from my earliest days learning web design. I was accepted after a review of my site, so I’m feeling rather proud of myself! This is just another step to demonstrate my commitment to accessibility.
Accessibility is a term that throws a lot of people at first. Even people who make websites, but may not be professional designers, don’t always realize what it is or the importance of it. Individuals at businesses and non-profits in charge of getting a site built are often surprised by the concept once they discover what it is.
So what is it?
Accessibility in web design is just like accessibility for the building you work in: your website must provide access to all, regardless of ability or disability.
I’ve seen some people be surprised by this. It doesn’t occur to most sighted people that blind people use the Internet too! Blind web surfers have software that reads the page for them. These screen readers provide an audio interpretation of what is written on a site. In other words: blind surfers have software that read a page out loud to them.
The challenge in creating a website is ensuring that not only is it visually attractive, but pages are read out loud correctly, that all of it can be read, and the site is easy for both sighted and blind to navigate. This is one reason why I still prefer non-Flash sites: screen readers can not read what the seeing visitors see. That code is inaccessible to a screen reader, and therefore, your blind visitors.
Think this doesn’t matter for you?
Target Stores lost a lawsuit to the National Federation for the Blind. The lawsuit began because Target refused to take some very simple steps to make information accessible. This sets a precedent. I, and many other designers in the United States, try and design around Section 508 Guidelines, which are requirements for government websites and organizations doing business with the government. Web designers in other countries will use similar guidelines, if not those. While those guidelines are not law for all other non-government related sites, it is a good place to start to ensure an accessible website. The World Wide Web Consortium, a non-profit that sets web standards, also has accessibility guidelines.
There is more to creating an accessible site than limiting use of Flash or creating an HTML version of a Flash site. How we write out code, on a variety of subjects, determines how accessible a site is.
Even color choice for a site is important, as you will have visitors with some form of color blindness. Don’t forget your deaf visitors too. Got audio or a video on your site? Then have transcripts available.
Remember: just like the building you work in, your website should allow access for everyone.
Interested in more details? Here are a couple of checklists: