How do I make websites accessible?
Growing numbers of educational entities at all levels are embracing the web for delivery of curriculum, as well as for administrative functions, outreach, and communication. Delivering web-based content to a variety of audiences demands a respect for the varieties of technologies that people use to access the web. In addition to the standard combination of computer screen, keyboard, and mouse, many web users with and without disabilities use alternative devices both for providing input to the computer and for perceiving output from the computer.
For input, many users control computers using mouse and keyboard, but many individuals can use only one of these devices, not both. Some individuals, such as people who operate their computers using speech recognition systems, use neither. Some individuals with mobility impairments use alternative pointing devices, such as headsticks or eye-gaze tracking systems.
For output, users might depend on an audible interface, such as that provided by a screen reader (a speech synthesizer which reads the content of the screen). This is true of individuals with blindness but also true of people who subscribe to voice-based web services, which they access using their wireless phones. Some users receive computer output via a tactile system, such as a refreshable Braille display. Even those users who access computer output visually do so with a variety of monitor sizes, screen resolutions, web browsers, font sizes, colors, and other configurations.
With all of the technology available today, there are very few people whose disabilities prevent them from accessing computers and the web. However, individuals may still face barriers unless web content is presented in ways that are compatible with the full spectrum of possible web access devices. Fortunately, this doesn't require detailed knowledge about all possible technologies. Standards and guidelines have been developed that specifically define web accessibility and document the techniques for developing accessible websites. These standards and guidelines are further described in the AccessIT Knowledge Base article What is the difference between the W3C Guidelines and the Section 508 standards for web accessibility?
Also, many web authors turn to web accessibility evaluation and repair software to assist them in understanding web accessibility and in making their websites more accessible. There are a variety of products to choose from, all of which perform automated assessments of websites and generate reports explaining the accessibility problems found on these sites and recommending solutions. Additional information about these software tools is available in the AccessIT Knowledge Base article How can I select a web accessibility software tool?
There are many additional AccessIT Knowledge Base articles covering a variety of issues related to web accessibility. Here is a sample:
- How does accessible web design benefit all web users?
- Can I make accessible web pages using a web authoring tool such as Dreamweaver®?
- How can I develop accessible web-based forms?
- How do I make my online PowerPoint presentation accessible?
- How do cascading style sheets affect web accessibility?
- Are text-only web pages an accessible alternative?
- How well do screen readers support web accessibility guidelines?
- Is Flash® content accessible?
- Is PDF accessible?
- Is Java™ accessible?
- How do scripting languages affect accessibility?
- Is XML accessible?
- Which educational entities have developed web accessibility policies?
- University of Wisconsin–Madison: A Promising Practice on Development, Articulation, and Support of a Web Accessibility Policy
- Ohio State University: A Promising Practice on Web Accessibility Support
- Where can I locate the results of studies that test the accessibility of web pages?