Designing with
Disabilities in Mind
(The WebSideSTORY
Volume XXXVII, February 14, 2000)
You may think you've got the greatest looking Web site on the Internet. It's flashy and it's stylish, but is it accessible to your surfers with disabilities? If you don't think it really matters, you're wrong. In fact, the most well used access to the internet, AOL (Seatle Times Article) is even being sued by the National Federation for the Blind over it's slowness to adapt its software and site to benefit blind users.

While you may have a small site that has no chance of being sued, you could still be squelching potential sales and visits from those who use special readers on their computers to convert text and graphics to audio.

What can you do to ensure equal access for all? According to the http://www.isc.rit.edu/~easi/law/weblaw1.htm guidelines set forth by ADA you need to try to reach the broadest selection of visitors to make your site more accessible. Here are some simple ways to do just that.

First off, you can include text for all your graphics with an <alt> tag. For example code for a graphic of your cat on your page would look like this, <img src="mygraphic.gif" alt="this is a picture of a my cat">.

These tags are not only helpful for the blind, but for those who surf with their graphics turned off too. What happens when you don't include them is that the hardware the visitor may use to "read" the pages for them will stumble on your graphics, making it harder for them to find what they are looking for on your site.

Image maps must also have <alt> tags for the link descriptions, or else the visitor using a program that reads the page won't know where the link will take them. An example of adding an

tag in an image map is like this:
<area shape=rect coords=0,0,12,12 href="catalog.htm" alt="catalog">.

Also include text descriptions for audio and movie files on your site, for obvious reasons.

If you're using frames, include a no frames version of your site complete with text links. It's really not that hard to do and many people, not just those with disabilities will appreciate it. And while you're at it, make those separate pages without tables too. This makes it easier on those special readers. You can still use tables for your layouts on your other pages.

If you are using many images on your pages, why not include a link to a text-only page of the same information. This is much easier for the blind visitor who relies on a text reader. It's pretty simple to do as well.

When you provide a downloadable file like a PDF file, then try to provide an HTML or ASCII file to accommodate your visitors with disabilities.

Forms many times require you to use a mouse to click in the appropriate boxes. If the keyboard can't be used to submit or enter form information, then those who can't use a mouse will not be able to submit information and will probably leave. I'd include a contact e-mail address in such a case with instructions to use it in place of the form if necessary.

After you've made changes or if you'd like to see how your pages measure up as they are now, visit http://www.cast.org/bobby, Bobby, a Web site that will evaluate your site according to W3C standards. It does this by visiting your site and giving you a rating and explanation of what you need to do to improve your readability.

The Web is worldwide after all, and isn't it important to your site's popularity and growth to be accessible to as many as possible?


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