Many Web users may be operating in contexts very different from your own. They may have a disability, or be using an different operating system or have a slow Internet connection.
For example, people who are blind use speech synthesis software to read aloud the content of a Web page. You must make sure that your design allows your information to be accessed in this way by always using alternative text to describe an image or non-text element. As well as helping people who have difficulty seeing your Web site, it will also help the majority of users, as the alternative text will be visible if the image takes time to download. The University of Leicester is committed to designing for accessibility.
With the implementation of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA), from September 2002, it is now a legal requirement to take steps to ensure your Web site is accessible to disabled people.
SENDA has been introduced to include educational establishments that were previously exempt from the Disability Discrimination Act (1995). As of September 2002 it will be a legal requirement to provide equal access to information and services for everyone.
Basically we must make sure that information on the Web Site in accessible to everyone, and if it isn't we have an obligation to make 'reasonable adjustments'. If information can't be accessed by a disabled person, we must provide an alternative form of provision so as not to disadvantage the person concerned.
Don't worry, creating an accessible Web site shouldn't be difficult, in a lot of cases there are probably just small adjustments to make to comply with the legislation. One of the most common (and easiest to fix!) mistakes is not including alternative text for images. This means that people with impaired sight or those using text-only browsers wouldn't be able to access any information which is presented by an image.
These top ten simple tips are a starting point for making sure your site is accessible.
To help you to ensure your Web site is accessible, the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) have produced the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. These explain in detail what you need to do to allow as wide an audience as possible view your Web site. They are split into three priorities:
You Web site should also conform to the published standard for HTML 4.0 Transitional. You can use the Validation Service provided by W3C which will check your HTML and give recommendations for improvements.
You should use HTML to mark up the structure of your pages and provide layout information using Cascading Style Sheets (which can be overridden by the user, or ignored by older browsers).
To ensure that the colours you choose are displayed as closely as possible on most screens you should keep to the 216 'Web Safe' colours. These colours are based on combinations of six possible values each for red, green and blue. Further information on how to use Web Safe colours in text and graphics is in the Corporate Identity Guidelines. There are also links for Web Sites that can help you pick colours for your designs in the Design it Resources section.
Colour is highlighted in W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. You shouldn't rely on colour alone to convey your message as some people may not be able to differentiate between certain colours, or may be using non-colour or non-visual displays.
Once you have addressed accessibility issues, you can use the Webxact tool to help you to check that they conform to Priority 1. This tool automatically checks the main accessibility checkpoints and offers advice on areas you should check manually. It also gives an idea of the size of your site and how long it will take to download.
As well as using Webxact, you need to check yourself that your pages display as expected with older browsers, different screen resolutions and colour depths, on different operating systems (where available fonts may be limited), and with text-only browsers such as lynx (available on the irix service).
British Law requires that Web sites meet Priority 1 Checkpoints of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). The full documentation explaining what this means can be found on the W3's Web site
There also a PDF available on designing accessible Web Sites which has more readable information, including practical tests to help you learn more about accessibility.
The TechDis site contains a list of precepts of accessibility and usability, which give easy to follow advice on accessible Web design.
If you have any questions or problems with checking the accessibility of your site or making adjustments, please contact the CWIS Officer at firstname.lastname@example.org