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California State University, Long Beach
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What Is Web Accessibility?

From the W3C Introduction to Accessibility:

Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web. More specifically, Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web. Web accessibility also benefits others, including older people with changing abilities due to aging.

Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities. The document "How People with Disabilities Use the Web" describes how different disabilities affect Web use and includes scenarios of people with disabilities using the Web.

Millions of people have disabilities that affect their use of the Web. Currently most Web sites and Web software have accessibility barriers that make it difficult or impossible for many people with disabilities to use the Web. As more accessible Web sites and software become available, people with disabilities are able to use and contribute to the Web more effectively.

Web accessibility also benefits people without disabilities. For example, a key principle of Web accessibility is designing Web sites and software that are flexible to meet different user needs, preferences, and situations. This flexibility also benefits people without disabilities in certain situations, such as people using a slow Internet connection, people with "temporary disabilities" such as a broken arm, and people with changing abilities due to aging. The document "Developing a Web Accessibility Business Case for Your Organization" describes many different benefits of Web accessibility, including benefits for organizations.

Web Accessibility at CSULB

A Beginner's Guide to Accessibility

If you are reading this then chances are you already have some idea of what ADA Section 508 is and what it means. If you want the gory details then click on "Section 508" in the left menu to read all about it.

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The bottom line is that Section 508 requires those of us who create web content for public institutions to ensure that we make that content accessible. This is not difficult, and the benefits of learning accessible web practices far exceed the intent of the law because they are, quite simply, the best practices of our industry. If you learn the simple techniques included in this Web Accessibility Guide then not only will people with disabilities get more out of your web pages, but for everyone your web sites will be easy to use, easy to maintain, readable using older browsers, and look good on any device, from cell phone to desktop computer.

Most of the work is planning ahead. You can read more about specific techniques in the Accessibility Tutorials, but for now here are some things to think about:

  • Plan your web pages so they follow standard outline form.
  • Be prepared with text descriptions for every image.
  • Be careful about color choices.
  • Get Firefox. Get and play with the Web Developer Add-on too.
  • Learn about Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and separating content, structure, and style.
  • If you use tables make them as simple as possible, and never nest them inside each other.

Accessibility Primer for New Employees

The intended audience for this primer is web developers from the private sector who are new to the University, with the intent of providing an introduction to accessibility as it relates to coding for the University.

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It is important to understand that the main focus on a University campus is often not concentrated on marketing but rather on the disseminating of information. In addition, web sites you develop are expected to be accessible according to the requirements set forth in the Accessible Technology Initiative (ATI). The ATI was put in place by the California State University system in order to provide “access to information resources and technologies to individuals with disabilities.”

The Accessibility Approach

Though you may find it necessary to change your approach to designing and coding for the web because of the different focus here, some of the marketing techniques are still necessary to get the message across. For example, placing information above the fold and organizing navigation so that users can easily click through web pages are still important factors and would not change from one environment to another. The adjustments that need to be made are not drastic, but the web developer must be aware of how a person with impairments “sees” a web page.

Assistive Technologies

As web developers we must account for a variety of disabilities users of our web sites may experience. In each area we are expected to make a reasonable effort to accommodate as many of these users as possible. There are a variety of assistive technologies available to disabled users that support their ability to benefit from the web sites we build. These range from captioned video for hearing impaired to screen readers for visually impaired. For example, since the web is an inherently visual medium many of the techniques a University web developer must learn right away concern how to write code that will be usable by screen readers. A screen reader is a software application that can read the text in web pages and convert it to either voice or Braille. In order for screen readers to accurately translate web pages the code must use proper structure and coding techniques. Presentation and structure then become important web development considerations.

Common Issues

Here are several common issues that are explored in the accompanying pages:

  • Adding ALT text to images may be something that you already include in your web pages, but the context also plays an important role for people who use screen readers. For example, if you were adding content about a new construction project and you had a picture of the building, you would include a description of the photo in the ALT tag so that the user has a good understanding of what is being shown. In this case the marketing aspect of ALT text is no longer valid for the target audience, who are users of screen readers for whom the ALT text must fill a new role.
  • Uninformative wording in links, like “Go here” or “Click here”, does not give the person using a screen reader enough information about the link or where it goes. If you think about it, more informative links help everyone, not just users of assistive devices.
  • Tables used for layout can cause problems for screen readers and make the experience for disabled users quite confusing and frustrating. Complex data tables can also be a challenge for developers who are new to this environment. There are specific techniques for making tables accessible that you will learn here.
  • Flashing images to draw attention can be distracting for all, but they are dangerous for some users. Similarly, the use of color to highlight certain sections can result in the opposite effect for those with color blindness.

These issues must be considered by all web developers who build pages for the University. This web site provides detailed instruction on these and other topics that will help your code comply with the rules of the ATI. The simple examples herein include the most useful techniques for ensuring that those who need assistive technology can access information presented by the University. You who are new to this environment will discover that coding for accessibility will also improve your presentation and document organization, a way of thinking about web development that will make your sites easier for everyone to use.