What is Accessible Web Design?

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What Accessible Web Design Can Do For You And Your Readers

Accessible Web Design For All!

That’s our motto and we mean it. Remember that many people cannot read quite like the best-educated people on the planet. Let’s make sure those people can also access the valuable information on your own website.

Accessible? What It Means

Ever since the invention of the internet, it has remained as the number one and the preferred source of information for people with different abilities and disabilities.But even with the numerous benefits associated with the use of websites, the problem of accessibility especially by people with disabilities was and is still a major concern. Therefore, accessible web design is meant to cure that problem.

The simple definition of web accessibility is that it is the ability to prevent or remove barriers that limit interactions or access with the websites by people with disabilities. There are various types of disabilities that an accessible web design has to address.

These disabilities or impairments can include;

  • Seizures triggered by flashing effects or visual strobe especially with video games and some music videos and movies
  • Mobility. Those who can’t or face difficulties to use their hands including muscle slowness and tremors. Mobility or motion impaired can be as a result of one or several conditions including stroke, Parkinson’s disease and cerebral palsy
  • Visual. This is arguably the most common form of impairment. It includes blindness and other various types of blindness, low vision and various types of low visions and poor eyesight
  • Auditory/hearing. This type of disability, deafness with all its various forms, is also common among people
  • Cognitive. Various disabilities such as Learning disabilities and Developmental disabilities tend to affect memory, problem-solving, logic skills and attention.

The General principles of accessible web design

In order to achieve an accessible web design, there are a number of universal guiding principles that have been laid out to help in designing web pages. Some of these principles are consequently discussed below but a detailed access to instructions and other principles are possible through the WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) website. The initiative was launched in 1997 by W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) in the USA to provide accessible web design to people with disabilities.

Well-structured and well-written content

With the implementation of this principle, literally everyone including those with low literacy and cognitive disabilities is able to benefit.Here, a few basic principles or guidelines should be observed to realize a well-structured and written content. These include:

  1. Checking grammar and spelling. The written content should be organized in true heading both for easier read and navigation. When talking about true headings I mean h1, h2 and others.
  2. Text can be supplemented by the use of illustrations.
  3. Readability can also be improved by use of white or empty space.
  4. Employ the use of positive language, for example, “Do remember” instead of “Don’t forget to”.
  5. Use a simpler language. There are various reading level analyzers that can be accessed online. A popular one is Grammarly

Create web pages that conform to standards

HTML is the most standard markup language used to publish web pages. Accessible web design uses standard or widely accepted electronic formats as they enable correct interpretation or rendering by the various browsers (user agents) that we normally use. The W3C defines standards for the Web.

Your web page therefore should be written in appropriate HTML. HTML 5.0 is most preferred since it’s the latest version of the standard.

Of course there are other versions of HTML like HTML 4.0, HTML 3.2 and HTML 2.0 which should be acceptable. In addition, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is used to enhance presentation-you are able to specify font, color and position among other uses. The latest version CSS3 is recommended.

Use Keyboard or voice command navigation

The use of keyboard or voice commands to navigate pages is advised for an accessible web design. This is because not all users have access to graphic pointing devices like a mouse and trackball.

While normally keyboard-only navigation might be a browser issue, there are some things that can be done by a web designer to render the web page in a way that works well for tabbed navigation.

One common example is the use of attributes like ACCESSKEY and TABINDEX with form elements. It is therefore important that you are able to test your web page so see whether it can or cannot be navigated by keyboard. Testing in general is very important!

Completion and submission of forms

We all know the importance of web forms; particularly for receiving inquiries or placing orders on websites. An accessible web design must have form elements that are properly labelled. Some of the more common form elements are a drop-down lists, text fields and checkboxes.

In some instances, after filling the form submission of the contents may also present another problem to the user. It is incumbent upon the web designer to make sure that form submission is possible under any circumstances. In the case where it had been filled and there are failures, the initial contents should be recovered and corrected as appropriate.

Clear instructions should be provided for forms and the fields within them. In cases that the user makes errors in filling the form, it should be possible for them to be alerted as to exactly why the error occurred. When alerted, it should be easy for them to correct and resend the form filled.

There are two design elements or principles that can be implemented or observed here. First, as a designer you must make sure that the purpose of the form is clear. For example, subscribing to an email list. Secondly, make sure that the elements that must be filled and those that are optional are unmistakably labelled.

Audio Transcripts and or video captioning should be provided

Transcripts are especially important to people who are hard of hearing or deaf, have cognitive disabilities and a situation when the audio you are supposed to listen to is disabled or muted. Live audio and videos must have transcripts and captions.

Transcription refers to the written version of the audio/spoken word. There are a number of guidelines that exist for captioning and they include;

  • Accessibility: The the content captioned should be readily available to users/readers
  • Equivalence: The content in the caption or transcription should be the same as the spoken word/audio version
  • Synchronized: The text captioned should appear at the same time the audio. There should be no delays or speed-up of text in captions when compared with the audio version.

Accessible Websites and The Law

There are a number of reasons why you should implement an accessible web design. One is that within some jurisdictions like in the USA and EU, there are a number of laws that compel you to do that.

Some of the website types governed by laws for accessible use include commercial websites, sites for formal education and websites for organizations that receive financial assistance from the federal government.

Another, and perhaps the most important reason is that it is morally and ethically the right thing to do. In fact, when your website designs are not friendly to people with disabilities, it appears that you don’t care and are discriminating against them. This can make some people feel disenfranchised. You will also lose a customer.

When your website is accessible, it means you will be able to win more trust and loyalty. In fact, several studies have shown that it has been established that most people have some kind of difficulty when reading websites and there is a very wide range of “normal”. Information is power, so feel the power!

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