Last night I attended the Adobe Charlotte Users Group meeting. Guest speaker, Christian N. Abad of Accessible Computing, Inc., gave an animated presentation on the topic of web site accessibility. Accessibility, in this case, refers to how accessible your website is to people with various handicaps or disabilities who use alternative methods to read the content on websites.
I found the timing of this meeting to be right on as I have been researching accessibility over the past month for some of my own projects. In my research I discovered that most ‘sighted’ people, like myself, don’t often think about this subject. We take in multiple sources of information in a single glance.
But not everyone can rely on their eyes for information. This is certainly true of the blind, who often rely on screen readers to surf the net. These machines do exactly what you think. They read the web page, one word at a time. And they do it in a certain order. If a page is not designed for accessibility, finding the information you want could be frustrating to say the least.
Blindness is not the only disability targeted by accessibility. Accessibility addresses issues dealt with by people who are colorblind, or have trouble distinguishing contrasting colors, people with limited use of their hands, or suffer deafness or dyslexia, people with cognitive or neurological disabilities, or even age related disabilities.
In response to these issues, the WW3 came up with a list of accessibility guidelines. In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act, Section 508, to require Federal agencies to make their websites accessible to people with disabilities. Simply said, any site receiving money from the federal government are now required to follow the Section 508 guidelines.
So why should your website follow these guidelines. Besides the fact that this would make your site accessible to handicapped people, these guidelines also make your site easier to navigate for everyone. If someone can find what they are looking for right away the odds are that they will continue to use your website and will use your services. The guidelines also help you when it comes to search engine optimization, which will help people find your site to begin with.
Throughout the meeting I found myself nodding in agreement to many of the guidlines Christian mentioned. Many of them seem to be based on common sense, like having navigation links at the top of a page. I was pleased to realize that I already implement many of these guidelines in my design.