The Scary Truth About Web Accessibility and Good Website Design
I recently attended a webinar for a number of small businesses, literally “mom and pop” operations. The average age of the attendee was easily over 60 and each business might have employed 3-4 people (full-time and seasonal). The web production company running the webinar repeatedly told the audience that “if you don’t make your websites ADA accessible, you will be sued (see WalMart, 2001 ).” In an effort to assess my client’s liability, I asked the web company for details on the specific legislation. The web company couldn’t provide a name or legislation number.
The truth is that there is legislation out there but it’s not aimed at these companies. Section 508 refers to ADA compliance and specifically “requires that Federal Departments/Agencies Electronic and Information Technology (EIT) is accessible to people with disabilities.” (http://www.section508.gov/index.cfm?fuseAction=Policies) While I don’t claim to have a legal background, it seems clear that think that this document doesn’t include these “mom and pop” operations.
While I despise the “scare tactics” used by the web company above, there are plenty of reasons why considering accessibility when designing and updating anyone’s website is a good idea.
- Reach a wider audience.
- Many ADA compliant features will aid in Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
- If accessibility is considered in the initial design and implemented it shouldn’t add much to the overall cost of the site.
- If/When guidelines are adopted into legislation, demonstrating that your business is working on addressing website accessibility potentially could go a long way towards meeting that obligation.
Web Guidelines for Accessibility
Guidelines that the industry is working towards called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
“WCAG itself is a technical standard designed primarily for Web developers and designers, authoring tool and evaluation tool developers, and others who need a technical standard for Web accessibility. WAI [Web Accessibility Initiative] develops additional material for people with different levels of accessibility knowledge.
WCAG 1.0 was approved in May 1999 and is the stable and referenceable version. WCAG 2.0 is being developed…” (http://www.w3.org/WAI/flyer/handout2007b.pdf)
These guidelines are produced by The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an “international community where Member organizations, a full-time staff, and the public work together to develop Web standards.”
5 Elements of Good ADA Accessible Design
- Include ALT text for images: Allows visually impaired users to hear (using their software) a description of the image and helps search engines understand what image content is.
- Keyboard Input: for those with restricted motor skills, keyboard input can allow them to use the keyboard instead of the mouse.
- Transcripts: for those who are hearing impaired, providing transcripts of videos or presentations makes the audio information accessible. This is also useful to search engines (similar to No.1).
- Contrast: Consider the contrast of text to images. The clearer it is, the wider the audience is that will be able to read it quickly and easily.
- Consider Column Width: Those with learning disabilities can find very wide columns difficult to track, and everyone can read a narrower column more quickly.
Accessible Website Design Links
U.S. Department of Justice, 1991 ADA STANDARDS FOR ACCESSIBLE DESIGN
JAWS, a screen reader for Windows. http://www.techno-vision.co.uk/JAWS.htm
Lynx, a free text-only web browser. http://lynx.browser.org/
Links, a free text-only web browser for visual users with low bandwidth. http://almende.github.com/chap-links-library/
Windows-Eyes, a screen reader for Windows. http://www.nanopac.com/WindowEyes.htm PwWebSpeak, a screen reader for Windows. http://www.soundlinks.com/