When designing an educational web site (or any web
site for that matter), how often does one step away from what one knows
and analyze the course from the perspective of one who is disabled? It
is very easy to forget that such a perspective exists, and even easier
to create a website that leaves behind the disabled. Yet, when a few
simple rules are followed, an enabled environment can be created that
provides all individuals with useful access to the information presented
on any website.
Why Should Anyone Care?
It's almost difficult to acknowlege this question.
A better question might be, why would someone ask this question? Nevertheless,
there are several appealing reasons why someone should care about the
accessibility of their web site.
- Because compassion and good sense should require
- From a business standpoint, the disabled are consumers,
and if you ignore them, you lose their business.
- A well organized page, especially one with a text-only
equivalent, is more accessible to search engines as well. If one wants
an easily catalogued web site that may be selected in searches by a
search engine, then one should design an accessible web site.
- All accessibility guidelines, not only make a web
site more accessible to those with a disability, they make the web
site more accessible to everyone. Cleaner code and more robust web
sites result from taking the guidelines below into consideration.
- Because it may be the law. Don't underestimate the
political power of the disabled. Many laws exist which may require
your group to provide web accessible options to your web site. Since
the expansive nature of the web is relatively new, there is little
case law to consider, but that doesn't mean that the ADA and other
regulations may eventually provide legal recourse to the disabled when
a public web-site does not take them into account. This is especially
true in the public education arena.
What Are the Issues and How Can These Issues Be
A variety of rules have been compiled by various sources,
providing rules for addressing the various issues that disabilities bring
into web site design. A link is provided at the bottom of this page to
various guidelines pages that were used to compile this listing. The
rules are discussed below, along with some others that were not found
directly within any of the guidelines but which are nevertheless important
considerations. Within each guideline, the issues addressed by that particular
guideline are discussed.
Transcripts, captioning, or both - Today,
more and more instructors are utilizing multimedia content within their
online materials. From a pedagogical standpoint, the use of multimedia
can provide a more vibrant learning aid to the student. However, the
multimedia is only serving its purpose if the student can access the
information. Sometimes, this access can be limited due to unforseen technological
problems such as browser incompatibility, but this access can also be
limited due to a disability. Therefore, the content should be modified
or presented in various forms so that all students can have equivalent
access. Multimedia such as an audio lecture or video should contain captioning,
or be presented with an option to download and view transcripts. Such
accomodations allow hard of hearing or deaf individuals to access the
information in an alternative form. Furthermore, it is important to include
notes such as emphasis and off camera audio descriptions so that the
person reading the transcript can construct a feeling of the tone of
the discussion and the interactions taking place.
Descriptive transcripts - Transcripts,
as they are commonly used, provide a useful form of information for the
deaf, however, they do little to help those with poor vision. Sometimes,
multimedia content includes visual contextual cues that set the stage
for the delivery of the content. Therefore, if video is being presented
that includes contextual cues, an alternative audio stream should be
presented in which the visually impaired can create a visual image of
the video's surroundings based on the words given in the audio stream.
This same principle holds true for graphs and charts. Always give a description
of the graph or chart for the impaired viewer. Providing description
is useful both for accessibility reasons, and for pedagogical reasons,
as it provides alternative methods for information acquisition.
Image tags -
Anyone with visual impairment will not be able to accurately see images
presented on your web site,
assuming they can even see them in the first place. In HTML, the alt
attribute provides a fix to this problem. Usually, the alt attribute
is described as being useful for those who have the images turned off
by their browsers. Well, one of the largest groups of users who might
be inclined to have images turned off is those who can't see the images
in the first place. Also, some users turn images off because the time
required to download a web page over a modem can be substantially reduced
when the images are not downloaded. Using the "alt" attribute
in HTML allows the programmer to provide an alternative text description
of an image when the image is not displayed or when the image cannot
be seen. This alternative text can range from a simple description of
an image (making sure to bring out any key points within the image) to
a description of the function of the image (such as a click here to return
to the home page button). Descriptions of images are especially important
in the case of a table, chart, or graph, in which information is usually
provided only via visual interpretation.
Image Size - Usually, in web design,
smaller (up to a point) is better. A smaller image size means a smaller
file size and thus, the page can be downloaded faster. Sometimes, the
images have to be made slightly larger if the image is conveying an important
piece of information or if the image is being considered for artistic
reasons. Even then, the image may still not be large enough for a visually
impaired individual. Therefore, in addition to the captioning described
above, consider including an option whereby the user can click on a link
that will lead to a larger version of the image. The largest size of
image that one wants to work with is 640X480 pixels, however, since anything
larger is unlikely to fit on a single screen in most cases.
Color Blind Proof Images - Just because
an image appears to show an image, doesn't mean that everyone with vision
will be able to see it as it was meant to be seen. A large number of
individuals are color blind, and this group may be the most often overlooked
group, even on websites that take pains to insure that their site is
accessible to all. To facilitate interpretations by the widest audience,
don't use color combinations or transitions that might make properly
seeing the image difficult for a color blind individual.
Image Maps - Image maps can provide a
nice graphical way to maneuver around a web site, however, this can add
difficulty to a disabled viewer. To alleviate any problems, use client-side
maps with alternative tags for links. You might even go one step further
and provide an alternative text-only version.
Avoid Frames if Possible -
Frames are not as commonly used as they once were. More individuals
towards templates and tabled information displays. However, frames are
not antiquated and can still appear to be very useful to relay information
in an organized fashion. Unfortunately, many software packages tailored
to the disabled student will not relay the information as it is intended.
Usually when considering design, visual interpretations are used by the
site designer. Instead, one needs to take a step back and view the site
from multiple perspectives. Will someone with a text only browser be
able to view the material presented on a page? Probably not if it is
a framed page. Therefore, when considering site design, look for alternatives
to the frame layout, or make sure you use the <NOFRAMES> attribute.
You will likely come out with a site much more accessible to alternative
users and you will also probably come out with a better looking site
devoid of frames. When using NOFRAMES, make sure to keep the noframes
content up to date when updating the framed material. This step can be
easy to forget.
Carefully Design Tables - It was already
mentioned that tables can be an alternative to frames on a page, but
not all tables are equal. Some viewers read the information on the screen
as a person would read a book. Everything on a given line is read from
left to right, and then the next line is read. This method can render
a tabled page meaningless as content from one cell of the table is merged
randomly (based on the window size of the program) with content in the
adjoining cell. Several methods can be used to fix these difficulties.
Any alternative text only versions of the site can likewise be without
tables. The user can be directed to browsers that support accurate voice
readouts from tabled information. Also, the information can simply be
restructured so that a line by line readout is sensible. Furthermore,
summarize the tabled data so that one can garner the same information
without having to view the table itself. Finally, where possible, use
CSS instead of tables for formatting the information, however, keep in
mind that page must still be readable by non-CSS browsers such as Netscape
3.0 and WebTV.
Links - Many screen readers allow the
user to listen to links out of their intended context. Thus, always make
your links descriptive of where they lead. Creating descriptive links
is simply good practice for any web site design and can lead to a more
appealing web site even for the non-disabled viewer. Furthermore, a graphical
link provides little indication of the purpose of the link to a blind
viewer. Therefore, always provide alt tags for image links that tell
not only what the image is, but what clicking on the image will do.
Organize - Organize the site and the
pages within it well. The better organized the information is, the easier
it will be for an impaired viewer to navigate, and the easier it will
be for anyone else to navigate as well. Once again, making a web site
accessible, simply makes a better web site in many respects. When organizing
a page, make use of HEADING tags and other intrinsic HTML organization
features. These tags will help to further organize the page for better
viewing by all.
Offline Provisions - It is highly likely
that a person with a disability will take a longer length of time to
read and interpret your web site than a non-disbled person. This longer
time can mean a longer time online and this can cost the individual money.
Instead of hampering the student with an extra fee for viewing the information,
a provision can be setup for such an individual can download the information
and access it offline. For the most part, such uses will not result in
a copyright violation due to the exemptions given to students with disabilities.
The end result is a student that can access the information locally over
a longer period of time as suits that individual's needs, and a more
Avoid symbols. Not only do some browsers display special characters
some text to voice
software packages will be unable to interpret the special character.
Therefore, avoid &'s and #'s type characters except where necessary.
Scripts, Applets, Active X, and Plug-ins -
Some browsers simply will not support some of the advanced features of
a web site. Therefore, an alternative version should be used to support
Alternate Versions - This last item may
seem a little extreme to some, but when the proper templates are developed,
it can be accomplished with simple cutting and pasting of information.
Perhaps the only way to guarantee maximum accessibility of a web site
is to present the information in different versions. The range of possibilities
range from an entire duplication of the web site in a text only, non-tabled,
fully transcribed and described version, to a re-organization of the
web site so that content that is particular prone to disability issues
is duplicated in alternative forms that are readily accessible.
Preview - Along the same lines as creating
alternate versions of a web site, one should always preview the site
in a variety of browsers to insure that everyone will see the information
as intended. This activity is good practice independent of the reasoning
though. For example, many homes use AOL's browser or WebTV, and yet few
programmers preview in these browsers, let alone some of the specialty
browsers for the disabled. Links to some of these browsers can be found
below in the links section.
Links to Other Web Sites Dealing with Web Design
and Disability Issues
Editor's Note - These links have been placed within our
database and are no longer linked below.
Tools for Making an Accessible Web Site
Tools for Making the Web Accessible to Disabled Individuals
Web Accessibility Guidelines
Federal Laws Governing Accessibility
National / Governmental Web Sites
General Web Accessibility Web Sites
Specialy Web Browsers
Operating System Specific Web Sites