The world of the internet has matured rapidly in a very short time, and standards of web design have matured along with it. Less than twenty years ago, “cross platform” revolved around making sure that your web pages could be read on all three of the major web browsers – Internet Explorer, Netscape and Mozilla. Within a few years, the concept of accessibility had expanded to include making sure that web sites remained accessible to those using older browsers. This became even more pressing as professional web designers on the “cutting edge” became enamored with playing with the latest technology long before it was available to the web audience at large.
Back in those days, a fellow web designer friend and mentor laid out his web design philosophy in a nutshell. Design for the trailing edge, he told me. Design accessibility into your web site from the start, or risk losing a chunk of your market. In other words, the more people you shut out of your web site by making it inaccessible, the smaller your market becomes. His point was valid then, and it’s even more valid now.
These days, thanks to better technology, the concept of “web accessibility” has expanded further to include not only accessibility to multiple browser platforms, but accessibility to multiple device platforms as well as accessibility to people of varying abilities and disabilities. The audience for your web site may include users who are visually impaired, hearing impaired or physically disabled. Some users may have cognitive and neural disabilities that make it difficult to navigate a complicated web site.
People who have physical barriers to using and navigating your web site may make up as much as 20% of your intended audience – and that’s just a start. When you include people who are accessing your web site on a mobile phone or hand-held computer with a small screen, those who are stuck with low-bandwidth dial-up access and those who may have other barriers to seeing your web site the way you intend, you may be blocking as much as 30-35% of people who could become customers – if they could read your web site. What’s a web site owner to do?
Making Your Web Site More Accessible
There are some basic tips to help any web designer make his web site more accessible to most of the population. Those tips include:
– Provide text alternatives for every element on the page. That includes ALT tags for graphics that describe the image, transcription or description of any audio on the page, and even using captioning for video.
– Make all functionality accessible from the keyboard for users who can’t use a mouse.
– Make navigation predictable and easy to understand.
– Make web pages behave in expected ways. For instance, make all of your links look the same so that people understand which words are links.
– Provide alternate navigation to graphical menus.
– Provide a site alternative optimized for mobile phone access.
In some cases, particularly for government web sites, accessibility can become a legal issue. Even when your aim is to be sure that your web site is available to the largest number of customers possible, there are good reasons to aim for a web site that meets all web accessibility standards.
One of the safest ways to make sure that a mission critical web site is accessible to every possible user is to bring in a professional web design company to create your web site. Professional web designers are trained to consider accessibility standards in their design, and keep up on the latest accessibility standards and technology to provide you with a web site that will be useful to all of your site visitors, not just those who have no barriers to using the internet.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Do you agree or disagree? Doesn’t really matter– just let me know your out there!