CWIS Web Centre

Please Note: we are no longer actively updating this site but it still contains some useful information. New websites should be built using the Plone content management system.

Basic accessibility

An introduction to the important topic of Accessibility and Web Sites - with explanations of the steps that you are now legally required to take when preparing your site. You can also find further information on accessibility in the regulations section of this site.

With the implementation of the Special Educational Needs and Disability ActExternal link (SENDA), from September 2002, it is now a legal requirement to take steps to ensure your Web Site is accessible to disabled people.

There's a huge amount of very clear, very useful information about accessibility on the Web. The reason its there is to encourage Web developers to think about the users of their Web Sites. Not everyone who visits your site is going to be viewing the pages from exactly the same context as you and as such you are required to make a 'reasonable' efforts to provide and prepare for these potential differences. Examples (from W3C) of different contexts include:

  • They may not be able to see, hear, move, or may not be able to process some types of information easily or at all.
  • They may have difficulty reading or comprehending text.
  • They may not have or be able to use a keyboard or mouse.
  • They may have a text-only screen, a small screen, or a slow Internet connection.
  • They may not speak or understand fluently the language in which the document is written.
  • They may be in a situation where their eyes, ears, or hands are busy or interfered with (e.g., driving to work, working in a loud environment, etc.).
  • They may have an early version of a browser, a different browser entirely, a voice browser, or a different operating system.

Clearly some of these are harder to make allowances for than others but at a bare minimum you should be thinking about doing a site that is clear in its use of language and visuals, won't look strange if viewed on different sized monitors or on an Apple Mac and will load properly for people with 56k dial-up modems. Its not hard to test these criteria if you ask around and find people who will let you view the site you are developing on their machines.

The other steps you should take to make your site meet basic accessibility criteria are here (taken from the W3C site - link) and include:

  • Images & animations: Use the ALT attribute to describe the function/content of each visual. i.e. for a picture of a student riding a bike use the ALT text "picture of a student riding a bike".
  • Image maps: Use the client-side map and text for hotspots. Which means basically, put ALT text for the areas that you have defined as links.
  • Multimedia: Provide captioning and transcripts of audio, and descriptions of video.
  • Hypertext links: Use text that makes sense when read out of context. For example, avoid "click here."
  • Page organization: Use headings, lists, and consistent structure. Use CSS for layout and style where possible. Organise the information on your pages as much as is humanly possible and make sure that if you use heading styles (h1, h2, h3, etc) then they appear in a proper hierarchical order on the page - h1 above h2 above h3, etc - and that you don't have a h1 followed by a h3 without having used a h2 style.
  • Graphs & charts: Summarize or use the LONGDESC attribute.
  • Scripts, applets, & plug-ins: Provide alternative content in case active features are inaccessible or unsupported.
  • Frames: Use the noframes element and meaningful titles.
  • Tables: Make line-by-line reading sensible. Summarize using the SUMMARY attribute.
  • Check your work. Validate. Use tools, checklist, and guidelines at link

In the next section we discuss how to validate your site for accessibility.

You can also download a PDF of the top ten tips for designing accessible Web pagesDownload PDF

UPDATED: 6th September 2006
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