featured image - Accessibility Matters

A recent decision in the US Supreme Court upheld a blind man's right to have an accessible site. Guillermo Robles sued a pizza chain after he was unable to order food on Domino's website and mobile app despite using screen-reading software. There have been a number of similar cases in the US.

Australia has the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, which requires equal access for people with disabilities. This applies to sites offering services, entertainment, banking, real estate, telecommunications and government services. Inaccessible websites discriminates against people with disabilities by treating them “less favourably” than those without a disability. Refusing to make a “reasonable adjustment” to a website so that its content is accessible to someone with a disability is viewed as discrimination.

A notable case from 2000 involves a man called Bruce Lindsay who took on the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games. His claim was that he was discriminated on in 3 ways:

  1. They failed to provide braille copies of information about buying tickets.
  2. They failed to provide braille copies of the souvenir program.
  3. The website was inaccessible.

All levels of government in Australia; local, state and federal have adopted disability access standards. Businesses need to provide reasonable access to online services too.

How to make your site accessible

It is quite easy to make sites accessible. Follow web standards and you have achieved that.

Make sure all images have "alt" tags. Alt tags are used to describe images. These can used by text only or speech reading browsers to tell the user what image is there. Alt tags are also best practice for search engine optimisation. Having alt tags improves your rankings with Google.

Use good semantic structure. Use headings strategically. Have only 1 H1 tag for the page heading. Then use H2 tags for your section headers. H3 is used for sub sections. This way you build up a good semantic structure. Another win:win because this is also best practice for search engines.

Be careful with colours and contrast. A low contrast page might look artistic, but it can be a nightmare for people with vision impairments. Make sure you have good contrast. This will also help those who are colour blind.

Browsers read websites from top to bottom. The position the elements are displayed on the page can be changed by using cascading stylesheets and JavaScript. A logical order of elements and an attractive visual display can sometimes be two different things. Try to make the reading order the same as the visual order.

Use text instead of images where possible. Text is better for zooming into a page.

Try to avoid using ALL CAPS. All caps can make text hard to read. If you need to capitalise headings, you can use the CSS text-transform property to turn the text into capitals.

Make links recognisable. Standard practice is that a link has an underline. A contrasting colour can also be used.

Links should be descriptive. Avoid things like click here for a good time. Wrap the link around descriptive text. For example: for a good time

Have accessible form controls. Forms should have labels , instructions and validation messages.

Make your front size readable. In other words, not too small. 14px is probably a minimum. We tend to use either 16px or 18px as our base font size. Our stylesheets are designed to be over-ridden. If a user wants to go larger, we make sure everything else scales.

Summary

Most of these things are standard practice nowadays. Making a site accessible is an obligation. It is good practice as well. Making sites accessible improves the ranking with search engines.

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