Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Web Accessibility--the Basics

Written by Rosemarie Punzalan, Communication Specialist and resident web accessibility expert, CFILC

Whether you are a novice with little or no web development experience or new to accessibility, it doesn't hurt to understand the basics of POUR Web Usability.  POUR stands for Perceivable Operable Understandable Robust.  Below are just some examples to give you a basic understanding of POUR.

Many of us surf the Internet to access communication, commerce, entertainment, information, and other important aspects of life that we take for granted.  The most common senses we use when surfing the internet are hearing, sight and touch.  These senses are important to our daily Internet access.  It is very important that a user has the ability to perceive the web content.  Not only is the ability to perceive web content important, but inputting the information into our brains is very important!

There are many kinds of audio interactions we use when surfing the Internet.  Some examples of audio interactions are: hearing music, listening to web radio, and watching videos. If you operate a web site, to make your audio information available to individuals who cannot hear, provide captioned audio.  Below is an example of a video with closed captions that was posted on http://www.dor.ca.gov/rd_life.wmv.

Web sites provide enormous information with content that consists of graphics, multimedia, and text.  Individuals who can see can read text, view images, understand the web page layouts, and understand the meaning of colors in certain cultural perspective (for example,– red and green street lights).  To make your web content available to individuals who are blind or have low vision, prior to your web design, structure your content (i.e. headings, subheadings, lists, etc.).  They rely on screen readers and keyboards to navigate through a web site.

Imagine an individual who is deaf and blind.  How would this individual access information?  There are ways a person who is deafblind can access information.  1) Through sign language where individuals use their hands to feel one another’s body movements, gestures and sign language; OR 2) A Braille device – a text can be converted to Braille.

A standard keyboard and mouse is often used to access web content, but not everyone can use them. Some individuals use adaptive or alternative devices depending on their disability (for example, a mouth stick to manipulate a keyboard). Blind users depend on a keyboard and screen reader to navigate web content.

To ensure your web site is usable to people of all abilities, you should make sure the web content's language is as easy to understand as possible. 

Technology changes and can be very expensive as well as time consuming.  There are different operating systems and different versions of browsers. People who use adaptive devices or alternative devices such as screen readers or screen magnifiers to navigate web content do not always update their devices or software to keep up with other changes in computer technology. Ensure your web site is robust through all operating systems and different versions of browsers by testing it on multiple web browsers and operating systems.

What is your experience with web accessibility? Have you been unable to navigate a web site due to accessibility barriers? Do you host a web site and find web accessibility implementation challenging? Have you had a positive experience? Share your story in the comments section below. 

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