Monday, March 3, 2008

Web Accessibility: What does it mean?

In the first of this series on Web Accessibility I spoke briefly on why we should care about this important topic. Hopefully people don't need reasons but in case they do what I detailed should be a gentle push in the right direction.

For this installment I'm not going to get into what the standards are but try to give developers a way to better understand the implications of following the standards or not, and how some things that might actually be OK according to the standard do not necessarily make the site user friendly to all visitors.

What does it truly mean to make a website accessible? Learning the requirements and coding your site so that it passes the validators is definitely part of the process, but to truly make your site accessible requires more of an understanding of how the alternate methods of using sites actually work. You can go through the effort of using screen readers, magnifiers, speech recognition tools and the like but since most of us are used to using the mouse, keyboard and our eyes, we will never get a true feel for what it is actually like. I'm not saying don't try the tools on your own site / application, that is a very good idea, but there are a few other ways to learn as well.

Luckily, some users of these tools that also work in the web industry have recorded videos of them using their tools and talking about the user experience. If you do a quick search on YouTube you will find many such videos, some good, some not so good, but many at least give you a taste for what it is really like.

The best ones I've found come from Yahoo:

Personally I learned a lot from these two videos and I highly recommend watching them. It really changes the way you think about web accessibility by changing it from "Meeting the Standards" to "Making the Site Usable".

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