Friday, February 22, 2013

Crash into WCAG: Web Design for Accessibility

web accessibility word cloud
web accessibility word cloud (Photo credit: itjil)

Why is accessibility so important?

As most of my avid readers know, I am simultaneously employed in the Division of IT for an academic institution and working towards a Masters Degree in Library and Information Science. A major component of the profession of Librarianship is to achieve a comfort level with emerging technologies and an ability to leverage the information potential of these technologies for maximum educational, recreational and informational impact.

Given the above precis of the occupation, I felt it necessary to take an introductory course in web design to develop and further my skills in the subject matter. While I have some prior experience in HTML and style sheets (CSS) and I am adept at conceptualizing design elements, I find my skills lacking in the execution of my vision.

As a result of my place of employment and current academic course load, I find myself evaluating the web pages used by my institution. This past week, I assisted a visually impaired student as she attempted to reset her account passwords. I could hear her screen reader delineate all the items on the page and I knew that one key element was missing. The page was directing her to a different web site in order to reset that password, but the web site was not a hot link and as a result, she would not be able to click on it to be redirected to the page.

How would WCAG have helped?

If the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) was followed more closely, the URL would have been coded as an active hyperlink and the user would have been able to tell their device to follow the link to the appropriate web page instead of having to dig deeper into the program. In other words, the web page's accessibility would have been vastly meliorated.

WCAG compiles the best practices for constructing web pages, which includes the proper use of links, headers and alt tags for images. Read the WCAG overview for more detailed information on the guidelines. For further reading and implementation assistance, one may consider looking into authoring tools as described in the ATAG Overview.

Accessibility in the real world

Unfortunately, there are a lot of things in the real world that remain inaccessible to individuals with physical disabilities. However, much like incorporating elements in construction design, web developers have the tools at their disposal to improve the accessibility of their web pages and are responsible to follow the 508 standards. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and aforementioned authoring tools are a great place to start.

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