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Accessibility online – more than just ‘click here for text-only’
© Messe Düsseldorf
Standards and guidelines for accessible web design have been put down by many institutions, associations and even governments. The governing principles for barrier-free sites can be easily summarized: perceptibility, usability, orientation, comprehensibility und sustainability.
Every bit of information which a website provides should be available for every user – i.e. by describing graphics and images for blind people, and using alternative texts explaining the content of audio files for the deaf and hard of hearing. Individually adaptable fonts and background colours provide easier access not just for handicapped people, but also for the growing group of ‘silver surfers' – elderly people using the internet.
Most computers are connected to a mouse, but an accessible site needs to be usable with alternative devices or by keyboard only. In addition to that, navigation bars and handles should be designed with people with mobility problems in mind, allowing them to access the information they are looking for.
A clear structure and recurring, understandable navigation elements are an important aid for every user – as is a clear separation of content and design. Easy-to-use navigation bars, simple language and short, well structured texts are aimed at people with learning disabilities and deaf people, but they guide every user much quicker to the information of their choice.
Internet technology is changing rapidly, but not very surfer uses the latest version of the programme or have installed every each additional tool. A sustainable site is thus accessible for everyone, for a blind user with an older version of a screen reader as well as a some who has restricted the use of applet and server-side tools for safety reasons.
Small and quick changes might make a site a available for a wider audience. A good way to identify barriers on the web site are test and validation tools, like the Bobby software, or simulations of technologies used by disabled people, e.g. screen readers. Many of these applications can be downloaded for free online.
A text-only version of a website does not often not comply with accessibility standards, as the information provided there is might not be updated at the same time as the normal version, or does only represent a part of the whole site. Preferable are special additional features, e.g. translations into simple language for people with learning disabilities or videos providing content in sign language for deaf people.
- W3C-HTML Validation Service