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Universal Web Design Catering to All of Your Visitors

Sep 14, 2007
The world wide web is an extremely unique place that allows everybody to have access to the same information from all around the world. This truly is an ability never experienced before by humankind. Just as exciting is the fact that this resource is always growing, expanding, and improving, so that a web user is limited only by his or her own imagination.

As the world wide web continues to grow, so will the needs of its different users. For this reason, universal web design is also increasing in its importance, so that web sites are continuously able to accommodate these needs.

Fortunately, by implementing a site with a universal web design, you can continue to grow with your visitors' needs, and without a great deal of difficulty. In fact, by using universal web design, you'll achieve a much more professional, clean, and usable website. Any alterations will involve only a few very simple, straight forward changes, which will make you much more likely to keep it improved and fully up to date.

Universal web design, when done correctly, will automatically accommodate your visitors, no matter their computer skills, internet experience, needs, and desires.

For example, when using the universal design style, your site will be consistently laid out as far as its links, navigation, content, and other features. This way, your visitors will quickly become used to the way the site works, and they will not have to "re-learn" it every time they changes pages.

Universal website design will also not rely wholly on Java-Script, and without using alt-tags for images. This is all very helpful to users who want a faster result, as well as those who aren't really sure what they're doing.

After all, many of your users may be visiting with the graphics feature turned off in order to give themselves higher protection from viruses and spyware, and to speed up the process because of a slow computer, a slow connection, or an expensive connection. If your site depends entirely on graphics and Java-Script, you have already excluded those clients before they were even able to get started.

Universal web design, therefore, will often require that the site offers two different methods of website accessibility for reaching the same goal.

Even better, this will open your website up to visitors who have very special needs such as those who are:

* Visually impaired, such as blind or color-blind
* Deaf
* Motion impaired, resulting in greater challenge using a mouse or keyboard
* Cognitive impairments
* Text-only browsers, such as Lynx

This is true because many of these individuals have different hardware, software, and overall techniques for accessing the web. For example, people who are visually impaired will frequently use a screen reading software. This software works by reading the webpage to the visitor one word at a time, one row at a time.

Now consider your own website accessibility. When you first see it, your eyes will go over the entire layout of the page, including its headings, side bars, text content, images, subheadings, ads, and other elements. You are quickly able to recognize the organization and goal of the particular page and are able to skip to your desired information right away.

However, will a person with a screen reader be able to do the same? Their reader will go across the page one word at a time, straight across the entire page, including any alt-tag information that may be there. Top-listed links create a disastrously confusing result.

There is an easy way to get around this with the universal web design style. When you create your alt-tags, simply enter the words "Navigation Bar" within the information and the screen reader will this information and then the links, having it make sense to the person listening to the screen reader, and will remain invisible to sighted readers. If you want the screen reader to ignore it altogether, simply enter "" as your alt-tag description, and it will move past it without a pause.

Similarly, make sure that your buttons are a good size, so that any visitors with motion impairments won't struggle to point and click.

Remember that color should be used very carefully, as approximately 8% of all visitors to your website will have difficulty distinguishing among colors to some extent or another. Your colors shouldn't be dense enough that they appear black on a black-and-white screen, nor should they be so similar that those with red-green color blindness cannot differentiate between them.

By taking the precautions of universal web design, you'll make certain that your site visitors are always able to access the different elements of your website, and that you're always keeping up with their changing needs and desires. This is the mark of a web designer who will achieve great successes.
About the Author
Mark Nenadic is the director and face behind FifteenDegrees-North, where you will find articles and resources to help with SEO, marketing and Web design.
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