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 first published in May 2004