Imagine if you were spending a few hours having a good browsing session online, and all of a sudden you stumbled across a really good link to a post that you wanted to read. The post looked set to be everything you were looking for – it was exactly the information you needed, and you were waiting with anticipation as the page loaded in your browser.
And then when the page finally loaded, it turned out that it was written in a totally foreign language, like Kling-on or something, and you couldn’t read it. And even the pictures were unfathomable – too dark, broken links, or simply impossible to view.
How frustrating would that be?
And yet, there is a chance that you are creating exactly that problem for a huge number of your potential readers.
I’m talking about web accessibility, and making your site suitable for access for people with disabilities who need you to conform to basic guidelines so they can view your page.
When we started out online, we were all busy playing with animated gifs and working out how to make tables in HTML. It was a time of experimentation, wonder and a great deal of screwing up as we all learned our craft.
Over the years, however, the internet has taken on a new formality. There are guidelines out there to encourage us to run sites which are professional, businesslike and – above all – accessible for everyone.
Just as it would be unforgiveable for a government building to operate on the top floor without wheelchair access, so it’s pretty poor if we discriminate against some of our potential readers by blocking their entry to our sites.
So, what is accessibility online, and how do we achieve it?
Web accessibility standards are set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and they are designed to make sites accessible for all types of different reader online. The standards are set to ensure that the same attention we pay to non-discrimination in our everyday lives can be translated across to our sites, and afforded the attention they deserve.
The guidelines are hard going to read through (thirty-two pages!) but worth looking at.
In summary, there are three different levels of compliance to achieve with the guidelines.
DDA Level A
The first is ‘ Level A’. this is the most basic standards for web accessibility, that every site should achieve. It means that most disabled people should be able to use your site. The guidelines include putting in ‘alt’ text on videos, images and sounds on your site, which let browsers that don’t read that media still understand what you have published on it. If people use a ‘text-only’ browser, they should be able to read and understand all you have published without feeling as if they are missing half the story.
DDA Level AA
The second level, (AA) is a bit more complex. It means that you site uses HTML code properly, using cascading style sheets to set out the format, and controlling the visual elements like font size, borders and backgrounds. A great page will use the CSS code, but can be ignored by text-based browsers so people can still view everything without compromising on the quality of content they can read.
DDA Level AAA
Finally, AAA level standards are the most comprehensive way of ensuring you aren’t discriminating online. This means that people who use speech reading technology can access every single part of your site without missing anything. Guidelines include placing text between two adjacent links so the reader can pick them both up, clear use of navigation bars for accessibility, and using a logical placement and order for various forms and links, so people can use a key tab to scroll through the content on the page.
It really is this simple to support people who use speech readers and text-only browsers to access your site in full. Visit the web accessibility standards (http://www.w3.org/TR/WAI-WEBCONTENT/) to find out more, and polish up your site to open it to a host of new traffic, online.