The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.
Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web
Accessibility tends to be stereotyped as providing access to the handicapped, disabled, physically challenged, or whatever politically correct term that implies “not fully functional”. Laws are in place in many countries which require web pages to meet their accessibility laws and to not discriminate. But this is only the tip of the access iceberg when it comes to accessibility in web pages.
It is important that web pages are designed and coded in such a way as to allow web page readers (verbal) to read the content with ease.
- Every graphic and photograph should have a description to help those who can’t see the picture to “hear” the picture.
- It is critical that every page be designed to accommodate relative font sizes so the fonts can be larger or smaller, meeting the needs of the user and not be forced upon the user by the designer. This isn’t just for the disabled but for the growing population of older adults whose eyes need the larger font sizes.
- Colours are important and should be chosen to help the large percentage of men who are color blind as well as for those suffering from other color-associated problems.
- Users of all web browsers such as Firefox, Safari, Netscape, Opera, not just the market leader, Microsoft Internet Explorer. Different browsers interpret the code in different ways, resulting in odd behavior or distorted content. So web pages should be designed to work with these different “interpretations” so everyone can read every web page.
- Web pages should display clearly on on different computer operating systems. Not everyone uses Microsoft Windows, and even among those who do, there are quite a few different versions of Windows out there, and each has their version of Internet Explorer. Users of Mac, Linux, and other operating systems and browsers still have to be able to view web pages, so a designer has to design for them, too.
- Viewers of web pages on cell phones, handheld computers, projectors, Web TV, miniature laptops, or the numerous high tech equipment coming out all the time? A web page needs to be viewable, or accessible, to myriad ever-changing and evolving equipment.
- International users should be able to access your web pages. While English is the majority for web pages’ language, estimates are that English will soon drop into the minority as more and more international language web pages will flood the web over the next ten years. Even if your web page is in English, can someone using a Hebrew-enabled or Arabic-enabled version of Windows read your web page without major distortion? What about someone from Russia, China, or Japan? As more and more international users want access to web pages, making them internationally accessible becomes ever more important.
So access isn’t just for the physically challenged. It is for everyone. If you want your web page seen, it has to be accessible. To be accessible, it has to meet the standards of compliance set up by the standards organizations for web design.
Benefits of an Accessible Website Design
- Web pages can be read by any browser software.
- Web pages can be read by any computer operating system.
- Web pages can be read by international and foreign language-enabled computers.
- Visually impaired (blind) people can “read” a web page through a verbal reading program.
- Visually impaired people can “read” a web page through the use of relative font sizes.
- Search engines love accessible and well-coded web pages.
- Style sheets (CSS) provide access for different media types (handheld, cell phones, Web TV, etc.)
- Avoid lawsuits and fines – Many government’s are requiring large company websites to be accessible by law.
- Faster web page loading times.
- Visitors are more likely to return because the page is easy to use and view.
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