Web Site Accessibility

When educators speak of Universal Design, they typically mean developing and implementing curriculum that expands learning opportunities for all students, across the spectrum from gifted and talented to those with learning disabilities. When Web developers address Universal Design, they focus on features that give a site its widest possible reach. How accessible is a Web site to someone with low vision, physical disabilities, or poorly developed reading skills? For help in designing Web pages that comply with the requirements of UD (Universal Design), visit the following sites:

Since 1984, the folks at CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology) have concentrated on developing technologies that expand learning opportunities for people with special needs. Visit the CAST Web site for information on how technology can be used to teach every student in the digital age. Click the link to Universal Design for Learning to learn more about the theory behind this concept. You'll also find information about research studies, tools, examples, activities and factors to consider when you design Web sites for universal accessibility.

How do you know if your Web site complies with UD guidelines? Get your site "Bobby Approved!" CAST (see above) developed the Web-based version of Bobby for Web designers interested in making their sites accessible to the widest possible audience. Bobby scans Web pages for "barriers to accessibility," looking for the presence of audio files lacking text captions and graphics that have no alternative text descriptions. It also displays your pages in different browsers. The Web version of Bobby is still free although it verifies only one page at a time. Version 4.x of the Java-based Bobby client (which is now owned by Watchfire costs $99. Version 5.x costs $299. Both commercial products can scan several pages at one time and permit verification offline.

List of Checkpoints for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0
Web developers interested in UD should visit this W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) site for a list of important checkpoints to use when evaluating a Web page or Web site for accessibility. Presented as protocols outlining do's and don'ts for page authors, site designers, and authoring tool developers, it serves as an appendix to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines produced by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0
Following Web Content Accessibility Guidelines when you develop materials for the Web not only benefits people with disabilities, it promotes universal access by making Web pages easier to get to by people who surf via PDA, mobile phone, voice browser in noisy classroom settings, computer set up in a poorly lit room, or a hands-free environment. Here you'll find a working draft of Version 2 of the current Guidelines.

How People with Disabilities Use the Web
If you want to know more about Web use by people with disabilities, explore W3C's quick overview of the subject in this highly readable introduction. It describes the Web experiences and requirements of people with disabilities and provides a deeper understanding of the need to follow Web accessibility guidelines. Specific topics addressed include: Scenarios of People with Disabilities Using the Web, Different Disabilities That Can Affect Web Accessibility, and Assistive Technologies and Adaptive Strategies.

Section 508
Statutory section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act (amended 1998) focuses on electronic and information technology accessibility standards. It requires that Federal electronic and information technology (including the information posted on Federal Web sites) be accessible to people with disabilities. At this government sponsored Web site, you'll find out more about the law, the products it covers, and the legal rights of persons with disabilities.

Web Accessibility: IBM's Web Accessibility Checklist
Web site and Web application developers will appreciate these IBM guidelines specifying a list of 16 issues to consider when creating electronic content for the Web. Topics include Images and Animations, Graphs and Charts, Multimedia, Color & Contrast, and Table Headers. There's also a link to a more general article called "Understanding disability issues when designing Web sites," which raises awareness of the special needs of users with disabilities. The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio has its own checklist of accessibility rules based in part on IBM's checklist. While details of how to make pages accessible specifically apply to the Health Science Center, they also provide general insights on accessibility issues.

Designing a More Usable World for All
Established in 1971, the Trace Research & Development Center in the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison strives to make current and emerging information and telecommunications technologies more accessible by persons with disabilities. As this Web site, you'll find links to several UD topics organized around issues such as Information, Standards and Guidelines and Tools and Resources. You'll also find links to information on UD document access, computers and software, and telecommunications. Web designers should be sure to follow the link to Designing more Usable Web sites.

Design Of HTML Pages To Increase Their Accessibility To Users With Disabilities
This site lists several Web page design strategies to consider as you develop your HTML pages. The guidelines primarily address the needs of persons with disabilities. But if you implement these guidelines when you create your Web pages, you would also make your documents more accessible to visitors who use text-based browsers and browsers with missing helper applications, and visitors restricted to slow (modem) connections or running older computers with minimal support for multimedia sounds and video clips. These HTML design guidelines first appeared in 1996, but they are as relevant today as they were eight years ago.

World Wide Access: Accessible Web Design
Visit the Web site of the DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) Collaborative hosted by Seattle's University of Washington site for yet another perspective on the importance of implementing UD principles in Web development. Follow the guidelines outlined here to ensure that your Web pages can be accessed by the widest spectrum of visitors, ranging from individuals with disabilities to older persons, people for whom English is a second language, and users of older hardware and software. Specific topics addressed include General Page Design (e.g., create pages with large click-on buttons to ensure that visitors with mobility impairments or restricted hand movements can easily select them) and graphical/audio features (e.g., design for people with visual impairments so they can use speech output programs with nonstandard browsers, such as pwWebSpeak or Lynx). At Lynx you can download a free Windows version of Lynx.

Sun Microsystems Accessibility Program
Visit this site for an overview of the Sun Accessibility program and to download Java accessibility resources you can use when developing your Web site.

A-Prompt: Web Accessibility Verifier
PC (Windows-based) users in search of a tool to ensure the Web sites they create are accessible to the largest number of visitors should download a free copy of the A-Prompt (Accessibility Prompt) Toolkit made available through the joint efforts of the University of Toronto's Adaptive Technology Resource Centre) and the University of Wisconsin, Trace Center (see above). A-Prompt evaluates Web pages for accessibility barriers taking into account the evaluation and repair checklist guidelines created and maintained by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (see above). It then provides simple solutions for fixing the problems it finds.