Accessibility explained

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Monday, 1 March 2010

Webdragon was formed in 2005 to deliver accessible and easy-to-use online solutions which contribute to client business objectives.

We put a big focus on building web software that is easy for people with disabilities to use, by following global standards for accessible web technology.

According to the United Nations, more than 97% of websites don't meet basic accessibility standards, which means people with a disability might have a lot of trouble visiting most websites.

Let's look at a few common types of problems people might face, depending on what sorts of disabilities they might have.

Visual disabilities

The web is a very visual place. If you have any visual disabilities, it can instantly become a very unwelcoming place.

Some sites use very low contrast colours, which can make text difficult to read.

Some sites use very small fonts, which can also make text difficult to read. Most web browsers have tools to resize the text in a site, but these don't always work.

Some websites include their own text resizing tools, which usually work very well.

People with no sight at all also use computers, often with Braille keyboards or screen-reading software, such as Jaws and Windows-Eyes. Screen-reading software reads aloud what is displayed on screen. On-screen text can also be sent to a Braille display

These tools can be very helpful for people who cannot view a screen, however with sites that aren't designed with these devices in mind, information can come out in the wrong order, while some information, for example text inside images, can't be read aloud.

Many users turn JavaScript off to overcome some of these problems, but a lot of newer sites depend on it being turned on.

Often, Flash components of websites simply can't be used at all.

Because of how screen-reading software works, it can also become very confusing if sites open links in new windows, as the user immediately loses context of where they are in the site.

Hearing disabilities

For most of the past 15 years or so, the web has been a very visual place. Now that broadband is becoming increasingly popular, sites like YouTube have made it possible to watch and listen to videos online.

Whereas most TV programs now have subtitles or captioning available, less than 1% of the videos on YouTube contain any useful text. This makes many videos meaningless.

Podcasts are becoming popular online formats, but many do not include a text version for people who can't or don't want to listen to the audio version.

All audio and video content online should have captions or a transcript available so that everyone can access it.

Motor skill disabilities

Most of the web is very click-driven. If you can't use a mouse because of vision disabilities or motor skill disabilities, websites can suddenly be a lot more difficult to use.

Some people use the keyboard or a joystick to move the mouse cursor, but that isn't always an option. A lot of people use the tab key to move between links and input areas. Usually the screen will show a dotted line around a link, while hitting enter will be the equivalent of clicking.

A lot of websites aren't designed so that this works easily.

Some sites order their code in ways that don't make sense when you use the tab key to move around.

Flash components in websites are usually completely dependent on the mouse, and can't be reached with the tab key.

When problems like that arise, it can be very difficult to use the website properly.

Making the web better

All of these problems with websites can make it unnecessarily difficult for people with disabilities to access a lot of popular and important sites online, whether it's for social networking, shopping, or banking.

At Webdragon, we work with our clients to build online solutions that are accessible to the whole community.

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