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Category: Web Accessibility

Another Firefox add-on

Don’t you just love Firefox add-ons. I do! Especially because they make my life easier.

As a developer it is important to have a feel for what the user is getting out of your site. I found a good way to use a screen reader on any operating system (OS) without paying a dime. I am using Fire Vox. It utilizes the integrated screen reader application of any OS (Windows, MAC and Linux) and functions on your Firefox as an add-on. I tested it on a Windows XP and it worked pretty well. I got some choppiness in the sound but this is probably due to my old hardware. The only downfall for me is that I cannot easily turn it off. I would have liked to have this feature in the Fire Voxes options, but instead I have to go to the add-ons extensions list and completely disable it. Oh well, I’ll live

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No Canadian Section 508

Ok so Canada does not have the national equivalent to the United States section 508. But if you want to know what they recommend you can read their Common Look and Feel standards for the Internet documentation. Obviously the information is for government and public sector websites, but it could be useful to get another perspective on standards and accessibility. It basically lists out the main things we need to remember for guidelines and best practices.

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More than just for people with disabilities

Sure accessibility guidelines are designed to help people with disabilities access the web, but it extends to more than just them. I am talking about the elderly, people with low literacy or little fluency in the language the site is made, people that have dial-up or a low bandwidth connection, and even new or infrequent web users.

Let me illustrate exactly how web accessibility will improve the user experience:

  • Elderly people might have a deteriorating eyesight and will need to make the text bigger. So avoid having fixed font size.
  • Low literacy or little fluency in a language can ultimately alienate the user if the there’s too many words or if the text is too complex. Obviously you have to consider your target audience, but this is still worth considering as low literacy can be improved over time.
  • Believe it or not, some users still have dial-up and low bandwidth is still a norm in most developing countries so it only makes sense to minimize your site’s size by separating content and layout, provide alternatives to images or non-textual content (some users might want to turn off the images) and make sure that if your CSS is turned off that your content is still ordered in a logical way.
  • Having a consistent structure and a clear navigation throughout your site will make it easier for anyone, including first timers, to find their way around your site.  A good way to improve usability is to have a site plan, especially for larger sites.

So you see that web accessibility is for a lot of different people. Including them will certainly not hurt.

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How People with Disabilities Use the Web

Accessibility guidelines are primarily developed for people with either visual, hearing or physical impairments and disabilities. Here are basic descriptions of some ways people with disabilities use the internet:

  • People with visual impairments might use a screen reader. This is a software that will read out loud the text of the web page. They might also use a text browser and need to make the text bigger. Just think about the elderly that have weaker eyesight.
  • People that have hearing impairments won’t be able to hear music or audio.  Captions or transcripts are the only ways to not alienate them.
  • People with physical disabilities like reduced motor skills use assistive technologies to help them navigate through the site.
  • We also need to keep in mind people with cognitive disabilities. They’ll need simple language and consistency throughout the website. This is also valid for first time web users.

There’s lots more to consider, for more read: W3C’s document on how people with disabilities use the web.

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Web Accessibility in Canada

As far as I know, web accessibility in Canada is up to each province to legislate.  There are several attempt to make websites accessible in government and educational institutions. Most if not all government websites in Canada are now accessible. But unfortunately, there are no laws to ensure that accessibility guidelines are respected.

A special notice should be given to W3Québec. An organization dedicated to promote web accessibility across Québec. Another organization is Accéssibilité Web that have done substantial studies on the matter and have translated WCAG 2.0 in French.

Unlike the US, the Canadian government has yet to make an official law like Section 508. There’s still a ways to get people on board.

If you want to read more on this, check out:

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Color Contrast Analyser by Colors on the Web

I have been using this tool for some time now. It’s simple and straight forward. It will tell you if your colour combinations are good or not.  Large and bolded text are categorized differently than smaller text. The program also tells you what priority your combination represents. Priority 3 (AAA) is the lowest level, so for all intents and purposes, this is the minimum requirements. Although the page is a little clutered for my liking, I bare it. After all it’s free!

Check it out at:

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Content Management Systems with accessibility

Content management systems (CMS) have become very popular in the last 3 years or so. They usually are pretty easy to install and to upgrade, but not all of them have accessibility in mind. What often happens is that the theme designer has to make it her or his business to create a site as accessible as possible.

I came across some CMS that have accessibility integrated into the system in an article written by the National Center on Disability and Access to Education named NCDAE Tips and Tools: Content Management Systems & Accessibility.

They explain the major challenges that people with disabilities face while using a regular CMS and give us advice on how to choose a responsible system. Most of the systems they recommend have an accessibility page stating there attempt to respect accessibility guidelines. This is valuable information that can help anyone accessing the site. Read this article before considering any CMS.

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So what is web accessibility?

Web accessibility is part of web standards. It focuses on making any online content accessible to people with disabilities. These people use a variety of assistive technologies to navigate through the Internet. For example, people with visual impairments often use a screen reader to read outloud the text on the page. People with reduced motor skills use adapted keyboards or mouses that help them click on links amongst other things. All these technologies are pretty pointless if the code is not correctly implemented.

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