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Web Accessibility And Your Website

Jun 19, 2008
When we talk about web accessibility we tend to mean accessibility for people with disabilities. However, it is beneficial to look at site accessibility in broader terms. If your site is inaccessible to any particular group of people then you are losing out on potential visitors. For instance, while it's true that the majority of surfers use one or another incarnation of Internet Explorer (IE), there is an increasingly large percentage of people using Mozilla Firefox and other alternatives. These browsers deal with HTML and other languages in different ways. What may be accessible on IE may not be accessible on Firefox, and vice versa.

The Spread Of The Internet

The Internet has instilled itself into many of our lives. It is the world's largest resource where information is freely passed and distributed between millions of people. Research for individuals and businesses has become a streamlined process thanks to search engines, directories, and reference websites. Because of this interjection into our daily routine, we have come to rely more and more heavily on the Internet for an increasing number of purposes. As such, making your website accessible to as many people as possible is vital to its overall success.

Ensuring Accessibility Is Available

Fortunately, most browsers have the capability to change website settings. A simple click of the mouse and an arrow key can change text size, and software is available that turns ordinary textual content into audio content. But websites need to be optimized so that they are as easily accessible in all of these settings. Generally, this means following good design principles and meeting accessibility guidelines. These are just some of the more common examples:

Text Alternatives

Audio, video, and graphical content is not always accessible for your visitors. This can be true for visitors with disabilities as well as those with limited browser capability. The most common example of this is the image Alt tag. The contents of the Alt tag are displayed in browsers that do not have the capability to display the image.

Accessible Without CSS

CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets, have become popular because of the ease and flexibility they offer but they may not always be accessible. Ensure that a page renders and loads legibly without the accompanying CSS. Providing good, clean HTML has been used, this should be accomplished.

Keyboard Navigation

It should be possible to navigate around a page using just a keyboard, as well as using a mouse. Ensure that there are no traps on your page where the cursor or screen may become stuck when doing this. Some users prefer the use of the keyboard, while others may not have access to a mouse when viewing your page.

Provide An Alternative Page

There are many reasons why a page, or page element, may be inaccessible to a person, browser, or system. Providing an alternative for every eventuality is not always possible with more complex pages. In these cases, and when all else fails, provide an alternative version of the page that can be accessed by anybody. Typically, this means a text only version, or an HTML only version at the very least.

Web Accessibility For All

Web accessibility is taken seriously. No matter how small a demographic segment you may be missing, you are potentially missing out on visitors if your pages are in any way inaccessible. This will alienate possible visitors and also the people they communicate with on a regular basis.
About the Author
Omaro Ailoch is a senior software engineer, an entrepreneur and the founder of OC IT Services a highly skilled California based web development, design, and search engine optimization firm.
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