Web Content Accessibility Initiative (W3C) - HTML

The W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) provides a comprehensive Web site containing substantial amounts of information and resources regarding ways to make your Web site more accessible. The WAI publishes guidelines for browsers, Web authors, and authoring tools, and sponsors education and outreach efforts aimed at enhancing developer knowledge and sensitivity to the issue.

A number of disabilities can affect a user’s ability to access your Web page. These include the following:

  • Visual disabilities
  • Hearing disabilities
  • Mobility-related disabilities
  • Cognitive and learning disabilities

Accommodating visual disabilities
Individuals who are blind, have low vision, or color blindness have a very difficult time accessing your site if you don’t accommodate them. Poor vision can render the sharpest, cleanest, and most impressive-looking Web designs completely unusable.

The one device most users take for granted, the mouse, is virtually worthless to a person with low or no vision because it requires hand-eye coordination. Images are useless on a Web page to someone with a visual impairment if you don’t offer text values for them in an img element’s alt attribute.

Similarly, you should make use of tabindex attributes to help users with disabilities make selections, because the computer’s Tab key is used to move the focus to the item that needs to be selected. The tabindex attribute lets you customize the tabbing sequence by letting you assign indexed values to a form element. For example, in the following code fragment the first element is chosen, then the next, when the user hits the tab button:

<form action=“this.htm” method=“get”><input name=“input1” type=“text” tabindex=“1”><br><input name=“input2” type=“text” tabindex=“1”></form>

The default behavior of form widgets is that the tab index is based on the appearance in document order of each widget. The tabindex attribute allows you to override that behavior. When a device such as a screen reader tracks the user’s tabbing, it alerts the user with a spoken voice that the user has found the item. This helps a user keep track of his or her place on a page. Instead of clicking the mouse, the user presses the Enter key to make a selection.

These are all things you can do easily to help your Web users enjoy your site. You should focus on using traditional HTML markup, such as em and strong elements, instead of b and i elements to emphasize points in your markup, because visual assistance software will often handle them better. You should also use one of the headline elements, such as H1, to create headlines. If you use style sheets and regular text, visual assistance software will likely not interpret markup that isn’t wrapped in h1 or h2 (and so on) elements as headlines. This is an important consideration, as many designers like to avoid headline elements because of the gap between a headline and the headline’s associated text content.

Providing access to the hearing-impaired
Individuals with hearing disabilities will not get anything out of your auditory masterpieces, so they’ll need a way to extract textual information from them. To accomplish this, you can employ closed captioning, blinking error messages, and transcripts of the spoken audio that your users can download.

Helping users with mobility disabilities
People with physical impairments that substantially limit movement and motor controls generally find the mouse and other input devices difficult to work with and require the use of devices designed to assist the user. For example, an assistive device can allow the user to enter a key sequence to reboot a computer, instead of relying on the Ctrl+Alt+Delete key combination. You can’t do too many things as a Web designer to address the needs of individuals with mobility disabilities, but by making your Web site accessible in general, you help the users’ assistant devices work better.

Addressing those with cognitive and learning disabilities
Providing sensible organization and navigation is an important way to assist people with cognitive or learning disabilities. If someone has dyslexia, for example, providing a consistent navigational framework provides reminders about how to move around the site. You can alleviate short-term memory disabilities by providing an audio version of a Web page that a Web page user can listen to while reading the page.

Tools you can use
Most of the barriers people with disabilities face can be eliminated, especially if youincorporate accessibility into your Web site at the onset. A number of tools help you help disabled users access your site. Making yourself aware of these tools and understanding how to develop your HTML accordingly will have a significant positive impact on your users. Among these tools are the following:

  • Magnifiers
  • Screen readers
  • Closed captioning
  • Keyboard enhancements
  • Highlighting software

Table shows a series of HTML tools you can use to help your Web pages interact with the tools disabled people use with their computers.

HTML Techniques for Enhancing Accessibility

HTML Techniques for Enhancing AccessibilityHTML Techniques for Enhancing Accessibility

Using forms and PDF
Online forms should have a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) phone number available so that persons with disabilities can call your company or organization instead of worrying about how to fill out an online form. Even PDF files can be made accessible using a new “Make Accessible” command that creates a specially tagged PDF file that can be read by screen readers.

Checking accessibility using a validation service
After you’re finished with your Web site and feel comfortable that you’ve made your Web site accessible, you can validate your site using a third-party tool.

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