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Accessible Website Design for Easier Accessibility

  • Synopsis: Published: 2009-01-04 (Rev. 2013-08-17) - Building websites with web standards and with accessibility in mind creates better websites. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Roberto Modica.
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Building websites with web standards and with accessibility in mind creates better websites.

These sites load faster and are much easier for search engines to index. Web crawlers or spiders that are sent our by search engines to index your site are in essence blind users, making your website accessible helps your natural search engine ranking, meaning more people will be able to find you via Google, Yahoo and all the other search engines.

Website Accessibility

The web is a place where information should be available and accessible to all regardless of any disability. Originally, the Internet was created to be accessible without a mouse, and even without the use of eyesight. Unfortunately, Accessibility took a back seat to creating more graphically appealing websites that showed off the design talents of its developer.

Under the UK Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) companies are required by law to make their services available to people with disabilities. A website is deemed as a service and thus needs to comply to the act, so it is important that your website is compliant with the DDA

Why should I make my website accessible

It's the law, but you should also make your website accessible for ethical reasons, ensuring that you site can be enjoyed by everyone. Additionally, making your website accessible has many business benefits as well, so there is a strong business case for accessibility.

The Business Benefits of Web Accessiblity

The statistics for people who would have problems with an inaccessible site show the potential client base that your organization could be missing out on.

10 million people in Britain have rights under the Disability Discrimination Act in the uk (Source: Disability Rights Commission)

1 in 12 men, and 1 in 200 women, has some form of color blindness, totaling 9% of the UK population (Source: Institution of Electrical Engineers)

There are around 2 million people in the UK with a sight problem (Source: RNIB)

9 million people with hearing impairment in the UK (Source: RNID)

Making your website accessible will open your business to the millions of people who would have problems trying to view your site if none of the accessibility guidelines were followed. As you can see that's potentially a lot of people who may not be able to use your site.

Search Engines Like Accessible Websites

Building websites with web standards and with accessibility in mind creates better websites. These sites load faster and are much easier for search engines to index. Web crawlers or spiders that are sent our by search engines to index your site are in essence blind users, making your website accessible helps your natural search engine ranking, meaning more people will be able to find you via Google, Yahoo and all the other search engines!

Reduced Website Maintenance Costs

Accessible, standards compliant websites save money. Separating the content and the presentation means presentational and layout changes that affect the site as a whole only have to be changed in the stylesheet file, making the site easier to manage.

Naturally Increased Usability

There is a clear overlap between accessibility and usability meaning that the general usability of your site will improve by implementing an accessibility strategy. This usability gain is for all your website visitors, not just disabled users.

Who does Accessibility Benefit

A major myth regarding accessible websites is that accessibility only benefits blind users. The fact is that an inaccessible website can impact people with varying types of disabilities. For example if your site requires the use of a mouse, then you're discriminating against those who cannot use a mouse. Building accessible websites benefits everyone. The whole point of accessibility is that it makes your site available to all, not just people with disabilities. Add to that the usability benefits that creating an accessible site can have; you are benefiting not only your disabled visitors, you're benefiting all your visitors!

Is Accessibility Expensive

Not really when you put it into context. As with doing any task, there is always a cost associated, whether it is financial or time there is still a cost of doing it. Accessibility is no exception; there will be a cost involved to ensure your site is accessible to all visitors because you have to make sure that your site has been built in a way that accommodates people with disabilities.

Sites that are inaccessible, can be "fixed" and be made more accessible to disabled users, which will take longer, and cost more, but in the main the design and physical layout of the website can stay the same. The key to keeping the cost of accessibility down is by planning for accessibility from the beginning of any new project. To include a plan of accessibility in your overall website development strategy means that accessibility will be built into the site as you would any other feature.

Accessibility can get expensive, as the organizers of the Sydney Olympics found out. The Maguire v. Sydney Organizing committee case highlighted what can happen when you do not plan for accessibility. The estimated cost of making the thousands of generated pages accessible was in the region of $2.8 million Australian dollars and the original complainant was awarded $20,000 Australian Dollars in compensation. Its not rocket science to identify that trying to fix something that has not been built properly in the first place is going to cost money, but planning for it from the beginning is going to limit this cost.

Does my site have to be dull and boring to be accessible

Building an accessible website is much the same as building an inaccessible one. From a design point of view they are the same, the only difference is that one of the sites has been built to take into account accessibility considerations, and the other hasn't. The only element that will limit your sites design is your designer, not accessibility considerations.

If you don't believe me, simply take a visit to the Zen Garden website and see for yourself what can be achieved with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and XHTML. As long as your site takes into the consideration accessibility guidelines then there is no limit to what you can produce from a design perspective. This misconception that accessible sites are dull and boring come from the fact many people think that text only versions of sites are there to fill the accessible gap. In reality, just because a site is text only doesn't mean it is accessible, in fact, building another version of your site brings a level of segregation, as people who need your site to be accessible, are being forced to use another version. Text only pages should only be used as a last resort if the main site cannot be made to comply with accessibility guidelines.

How do we "Get Accessible"

Your website design company should be able to help you offering advice and guidance to make sure your website is accessible. If they are using web standards to produce websites, chances are they already have good practices in place and may have already included accessibility design into their workflow.

Reference: Rob Modica is the managing director and founding member his own web design agency. He is passionate about accessible web design and an advocate for the use of web standards across the industry.






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