10 Commandments of Website Accessibility
by Chris P. Bohn
We keep hearing about something called 'accessibility' for websites. So what is it all about huh?
Well, it is all about webmasters making sure that they give any disabled visitors who come to their site an equivalent experience to that which a non-disabled person would have. So, if your site has garish rainbow coloured text and is full of puerile nonsense, then you must inflict your garbage on disabled visitors (who probably have enough problems already) as well as the rest of us.
How can you make sure your site is accessible?
Accessibility is a legal requirement in the UK and USA for government departments and anyone providing goods or services. Although personal homepages may be technically covered by accessibility laws (don't ask me, I'm not a lawyer) you probably would not be prosecuted for infringing the rules on an ordinary personal home page.
But if you are worried about accessibility, use one of the free online validators. There are lots of them. The one most people know is Bobby (http://webxact.watchfire.com).
Some people though, get far too obsessed with accessibility rules. The Web does need some rules. But people seem to forget that it also needs innovators, mavericks and rebels just as much. Otherwise the Web and all of us who use it will probably all die of boredom.
But if you do need the rules, here they are.
TEN COMMANDMENTS OF ACCESSIBILITY
Thou shalt worship Bobby and shall have no other accessibility checkers before him.
(And no 'marquee' tags either. They are so Internet Explorer! Some of us do use other browsers, you know.)
Thou shalt use 'alt' tags and/or 'title' tags in your images, because many people browse with images switched off. Also because some partially sighted or blind people use screen readers, which obviously cannot 'read' images.
Thou shalt not use 'alt' tags in each and every one of your 'spacer' gifs.
Although it would be technically correct to use 'alt' tags in spacer gifs, it would obviously be a nightmare if a disabled person (or anyone for that matter) had to listen to a screen reader reading out the 'alts' in all of these tags. And besides, those hundred plus spacer gifs are only there because you can't design properly to begin with. Yes I am bitchy aren't I?
Thou shalt not use Java applets, because many people browse with Java switched off.
Basically, people are so fed up of waiting for slow loading, jerky applets that usually contribute little to our enjoyment of either life or your website. And as for that java applet of a shimmering lake, if I never see that again...
Thou shalt use tables only as a last resort.
Tables are meant to hold 'tabular data', not entire webpages.
Thou shalt design thy website using divs and CSS wherever possible. But remember to ensure that your pages can be used without CSS as some people browse with style sheets switched off.
Basically, you should try to design your website in such a way that the end user can resize your text and, if desired, they can use their own style sheet instead of yours. Yes folks, the whole idea of spending hours and weeks of your precious time designing a beautiful website, is so that people can decide they want it to look like something completely different.
Thou shalt not use WAV, midi or other sound files because many people browse with sound switched off.
Using sound files often means people need to use a plug-in. If this applies to your web page, remember to provide a link to somewhere that the plug-in can be downloaded. If you use a small image as the link to the plug-in website, remember to use an 'alt' tag in the image because many people browse with images switched off.
Thou shalt not use Flash.
Admit it, you're just showing off aren't you?
Thou shalt throw up thy hands in despair and rent thy style sheet asunder.
There are too many rules. It's just not worth it. How many allowances do you have to make for the way people use the Internet anyway? Why not just print out copies of your web page and post them out on request instead? For all I know, many people probably browse without a computer or with the electricity switched off or something and we don't want them to miss out as well do we?
By the way, if you do decide to distribute printed copies of your web pages, don't forget to produce a Braille version and a foreign language edition as well.
Note: this article is intended for entertainment purposes only. No offence is intended to anyone involved in the field of Web accessibility. This article will be made available in a special Morse code edition early next year.