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Tag: disabilities

Evaluating a website for accessibility

The W3C has extensive information on how to properly evaluation a sites accessibility. Here are the underlining steps to ensure that your evaluation is full-proof:

For a preliminary review, select a page that is representative of the whole site or that most people will see. Try to choose a page that has tabular data, images and scripts. And then:

  • Examine this page for alternative text,
  • Divs instead of tables for page layout,
  • Use the keyboard instead of the mouse for navigation,
  • Test with different font-sizes and screen resolutions.

The Firebug and Web Developer extensions in Firefox will make your life easier in accessing the code and disabling images and even resizing your browser size. It might be a good idea to try a screen reader, and not to mention an Web accessibility evaluation tool like AChecker. These will enhance your understanding of the sites limitations and successes.

Another important part of evaluating a site is to get people with disabilities involved in the process. Some may have insights that other users will not.

For a complete procedure of website evaluation you have to go to the W3C – Web Accessibility Initiative page.

Although a little outdated, the WAI also provides a comprehensive checklist of accessibility guidelines (WCAG 1.0) and an useful template for the final accessibility report. They really thought of everything!

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Did you know that…

Did you know that according to Statistics Canada in 2006 there was 1,289,420 Canadians with a hearing impairment, 835,960 Canadians with a seeing impairment, 2,856,820 Canadians with an agility impairment, and 752,110 Canadians with a learning impairment. In every case, around 70% of these Canadians said that they had used the Internet in the past year. Let me crunch the numbers.  That’s 5,734,310 Canadians with the above mentioned impairments of 31,612,897, the total population recorded that year. So…there’s roughly about 13% of Canadians, with these impairments, that use the Internet.  That’s a lot of people if you ask me!

Ok, nobody likes having numbers thrown at them, but I hope that at least it impresses on you how important it is to consider people with impairments or disabilities as active members of our society and as such they should to be able to access with ease all the information everyone else can access.

You can have a look at the complete survey at the Statistics Canada website.

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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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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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