Why design accessible web sites?


An accessible and non-accessible site can look exactly the same to a non-disabled user. It can be difficult then to understand what the fuss is all about. Why is it important to consider accessibility when designing and planning online assets?

  • First, we have decided as a society that people should have equal opportunities and access even if they are disabled.  To that end, the Federal Government created the Section 508 law.
  • Second, search engines like Google process more than 150 million searches per day, and the programs they use to gather information about a site see nearly the same thing that a blind visitor would.  That means that if you have a site that’s blank to blind visitors, it is also blank to all those people using Google to search for products and services.
  • Third, sites that are designed to be standards-compliant will work on new and upcoming devices (such as accessing web content via a cell phone or PDA).  This means not having to redesign your site every time a new device or browser is released.

While two sites might look identical to your eye, they can be built in radically different ways underneath. The design underneath, when used correctly, is what can provide a very different user experience for disabled visitors. 

Note: No short article can explain accessibility or section 508 compliance in its entirety.  More recommended reading is included under Technical Resources.

An Example

Web accessibility is particularly difficult to determine because, unlike a brick and mortar store front, you can’t see the wheelchair ramp or elevator of a web site  However, there are strategies for understanding better what a disabled visitor to your web site experiences. 

One example, given by Jeffery Zeldman in his book Designing with Web Standards,
The Gilmore is a beautiful web site, and clearly a substantial investment.

Screen Shot of the Gilmore Website - Images On.

However, when viewed with images turned off, to simulate the experience of a blind visitor (or anyone searching with Google), the site is nearly blank

As you can see, the navigation is completely gone, and all of the content except the address is lost. 

Adding text to the code of the site (which is invisible to most visitors, but which allows blind users to navigate) is one of the most basic and easily achievable accessibility measures. 

The Gilmore also uses images instead of text for some of the words on the site. By magnifying the text, we can simulate the experience of someone using a screen magnifier.

As you can see, when images are used to simulate text, the results are blurry and unhelpful. When text is used for all words on the site, it remains clear – no matter what the magnification level is.

The result of images used as text:
Images used to simulate text Text as text
Image used as Text Text used as Text

More Accessibility Notes

The Gilmore provides two examples of how a web site can be inaccessible to those with low vision.  Other accessibility pointers are:

  • Instructions that are audio-only leave deaf users wondering what they are missing.
  • Sites that put sale prices in red don’t allow color-blind visitors to realize that the price has been reduced. 
  • Sites that rely on tables, especially when they have many tables nested inside of other tables, can leave both blind and mobility impaired visitors stuck in one portion of your web site, unable to access other content.

How to Achieve Accessibility

  1. Build a standards compliant web site – accessibility is easier to build into a site that is otherwise compliant with industry standards.
  2. Carefully consider how each of the section 508 guidelines applies to your content.
  3. Plan ahead. Accessibility, like anything else, is much less expensive when you build it into your process rather than trying to retrofit it after the fact.
  4. Choose the right HTML Editor.  The choice of editor is an extremely important one when planning for accessibility.  Some editors support accessible and standards compliant authoring, while others have to be forced through tedious hand coding or expensive add-ons to produce accessible code.  For more information, please see the WYSIWYG Editor Accessibility Test Results.
  5. Accessibility is a continuum and every step you make in the right direction improves the value of your site.  You don’t have to be perfect to be a lot better. 

Technical Resources

More Information

For further information, please contact nicole@postdiluvian.org.


Version français, Pourquoi des sites au design accessible ?

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