12 October 2006

Accessibility for All

Posted by Gary K under: Web design .

I’ve written about accessibility issues before. Designers need to create accessible websites. There is no excuse today. And the designer who stops studying, who stops learning, who stops tweaking is not a professional. There’s so much more to professional web design than throwing together a few tables, a nice background, and uploading HTML or XHTML documents to a server.

 

However, there are debates among web professionals about accessibility. Are we designing sites for those with disabilities, or are we making our sites accessible for everyone? And what does it mean to make our sites accessible for everyone? Who must we take into consideration besides those with some physical disability?

The W3C’s definition of accessibility is clear: “Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web. More specifically, Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web. Web accessibility also benefits others, including older people with changing abilities due to aging.”

So who are these other people we must take into consideration? People with antiquated computers, equipment, hardware, software; people with slow monitors; people with slow connections. I recall not too long ago speaking to a group about one of my web designs, talking about the potential for a photo gallery. In the course of the conversation, I was sharing concerns about optimizing photographs, that there were people with slow connection speeds. Not everyone understood. The consensus among some was that most people have DSL, some have cable connections, and it doesn’t matter how fast a web page loads. We sometime get the impression that the internet is just gushing onto everyone’s screen with, well, the speed of light.

But that is not the case at all. There are still plenty of people who have dial-up connections. There are still people with low resolution monitors, seeing the web in 800×600 pixel resolution. If I am designing a business site, I don’t want to lose their business. Bottom line. If I am designing a public service site, they too may have need of the information I am offering. No matter what type of site I am designing, why would I spend so many hours on content and form if people are just going to close their browser because my site takes too long to load?

So, besides designing for those with color blindness, poor vision, etc., we need to take into consideration those who travel the web with legacy systems. Sites must be accessible for all. While a site done entirely in Flash may seem incredible — and such sites are — it may not be the best solution for a business website, or a not-for-profit site, or even a hobby site.

We publish our sites so they can be viewed. Not so they are passed over.

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