Website Accessibility

website accessibilityWebsites of the companies that offer goods or services to the public in Ontario must be accessible to people with disabilities. If you have at least one employee and offer goods or services, you are legally required to comply with the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service. Private and non-profit sector organizations will be required to comply by January 1, 2012.

So is your website’s content accessible?

Here are some considerations that need to be addressed in order to achieve accessibility standards. First: don’t despair – there are resources and organizations that can evaluate your website and guide you through fixing most of the problems found.

To make your website accessible, you need to keep in mind that not everyone is using mouse and not everyone has good vision, in addition to computer hardware and internet connection limitations. There are variety of devices that want to “see” your website, like screen readers, audible enhancers, tablets, mobile phones etc.

We will not discuss old browsers and operating systems. The pointers below will only focus on design layout and development guidance that includes people with disabilities and compliance with provincial standards.

Basic issues that need to be addressed are quite simple:
Text size, contrast, keyboard-only navigation, descriptive images and links and content access.

Text size:
Make it easy for the viewer to increase the text size at will, without breaking your tediously developed layout. Check it easily on your finished site by clicking CTRL+ good few times and verifying that it actually changes the font size.

Strong contrast is required between text and background, and that includes visited links, hover attribute and all of this. Test it by taking screenshot of the site’s front end and viewing it in grayscale only. Better yet, ask a senior if he/she can see your website’s content easily. Maybe your designer’s choice of colours was not that cool after all.

Keyboard only navigation:
Not everyone can use mouse to navigate your site and make selections on the screen that seem normal to able bodies. Test how someone using only keyboard can get to the choices you provided for viewers, including all links and form controls.
In many sites created with Content Management Systems for instance you can’t select any of the submenus with a keyboard only. Find alternative ways of navigation. These may include skipping submenus, displaying submenus as main menu in the content of all top level pages, using access keys or tab index etc. Also: stop using the tables already!

Descriptive images and links:
Think about it in terms of the TV’s descriptive video feature. Visually impaired viewers want the images described to them, not missed. To describe your images and links you may use alt and title attributes, tooltips or note boxes. Provide text alternatives for images and audio. And yes, you – Flash developers, are on your own. Good luck with that!

Content access:
This last part deals with screen resolutions and horizontal scrolling. Test that your content is visible on variety of screen sizes and does not require any horizontal scrolling. If you have pdf documents for download, they should be text, and not image based. Scanned and pdf-ed manual or designer-style brochure where you can’t select text, won’t cut it.

Finally, do you know that besides GUI browsers like FireFox, Chrome, Safari or Internet Explorer, there are also non-gui browsers, like voice browser or text browser? Does your website make any sense in one of those?

Isn’t it time you talked to your boss about the accessibility standards implementation deadlines?

For more details on subject, google accesibility standards, WCAG, AODA.

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