Five quick tests to check website accessibility

Following last month's warning by the Disability Rights Commission that web designers need to ensure they have the skills to make...

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Following last month's warning by the Disability Rights Commission that web designers need to ensure they have the skills to make websites accessible to disabled users, usability consultancy Webcredible has issued a simple guide to check whether sites meet these needs.

The Disability Discrimination Act states that websites must be made accessible to disabled people. However, in a survey of 1,000 government, business and leisure sites conducted by the Disability Rights Commission last month, only 19% of websites met the minimum standards set out by the commission.

Organisations that fail to meet the guidelines risk facing legal action from disabled users. IT professionals can gain some quick brownie points and potentially save their organisation money in legal costs through five quick checks:

Check your website in the Lynx browser

The Lynx browser is a text-only browser that does not support many of the features common in the likes of Internet Explorer. You can check how your site looks in this browser with the Lynx Viewer, available at www.delorie.com/web/lynxview.html. If your site makes sense and can be navigated through the Lynx browser, it will be fulfilling many of the web accessibility guidelines.

Check informational images for alternative text

Place the cursor over an informational image - for example, the organisation's logo. Does a yellow box appear with a brief, accurate description of the image? For users whose browsers do not support images, this alternative text is what they will see (or hear) in place of the image.

Check that you can access all areas of your website without the use of a mouse

Can you navigate through your website using just tab, shift-tab and return? If not, then neither can keyboard-only or voice-only users.

Check there is a site map

Can you find a site map? This can be an essential aid to navigation.

Check your web pages with an automated program

Two programs available for free on the internet are Bobby (http://bobby.watchfire.com) and Wave (www.wave.webaim.org). They are unable to provide you with all the information that you need, as some checks must be done by humans, but they can tell you some of the areas where your site might be going wrong.

Accessibility design tips from the W3C       

Images and animations. Use the alt attribute to describe the function of each visual 

Image maps. Use the client-side map and text for hotspots 

Multimedia. Provide captioning and transcripts of audio, and descriptions of video 

Hypertext links. Text should make sense when read out of context. For example, avoid "click here" 

Page organisation. Use headings, lists and consistent structure. Use Cascading Style Sheets for layout and style where possible  

Graphs and charts. Summarise or use the longdesc attribute 

Scripts, applets and plug-ins. Provide alternative content in case active features are inaccessible 

Frames. Use the "noframes" element and meaningful titles 

Tables. Make line-by-line reading sensible. Summarise 

Check your work. Validate. Use the tools, checklist, and guidelines at www.w3.org/TR/WCAG 

Source: World Wide Web Consortium

This was last published in May 2004

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These are some good basic ideas to begin with but don't think that passing those tests means the web site is entirely accessible. For example, those mentioned don't include color/contrast validation, which is the part of the accessibility requirements (WCAG).
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Very interesting. Most don't think of the issues that some people have when trying to view a site. Nice tips for testing a few of them out. I do wonder what legal action could be taken against site that are not accessible for those with disabilities. For businesses that only host internal site, I assume would be exempt form this but then again maybe not.
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@Todd -
"For businesses that only host internal site, I assume would be exempt form this but then again maybe not."

In Ontario, Canada, if your business has at least 1 (one) employee it needs to comply with the regulations of the Accessibility for Ontarian with Disabilities Act (AODA), which includes electronic accessibility. In some cases, noncompliance can be fined by 100,000 DAILY - until you get it fixed (or go out of business, I guess).

In US you might want to check how the federal Section 508 is augmented with the local regulations.
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I'll check it out. I am curious as to how many sites comply. I see some sites that are really intense but no link for compliant version for the disabled. Who polices this and do they really file charges. I have not used one but would be curious as to if these web builder sites create one as well as the full blow version.
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This also doesn't mention the use of screen readers, for manipulating a site and navigating it via voice.
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That's a pretty good basic list. I had a job with the Forest Service for a while and 508 compliance was one of my functions. There's a lot of things that sighted people just don't think about (the "click here" is a good example).
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