A Usable Web For All: Accessibility

Phone and faces

By McDonald, T. | Date: 19th of November 2017

In the previous blog, usability was briefly covered. Usability is about ensuring a site is easy and pleasant to use. This blog, briefly covers accessibility. Considering accessibility will increase audience and avoid prosecution, so it is worth adhering too. 

Make a site accessible to maximise the audience. You may be excused for thinking that accessibility is the same as usability since the two ideas do overlap. However, while usability is more about using the site, accessibility is more about accessing the site using assistive technologies. Assistive technologies are things such as screen readers, which read everything on the screen and even read allowed a description of an image or graphic. In order to do this the image or graphic must have a description in the html code within the tag for the image. Before I go any further, it would be good to examine disability. If you go to a shop and it has a door ten meters in the air, are you disabled or is the front of the shop poorly designed. Likewise, if you go to a website and your assistive technology cannot read the description of the images or access the website is it your fault or the fault of the designer? In other words, is the world designed in a way that creates disabling factors?  The Home Office Gov.UK service manual ‘Making your service accessible: an introduction’ (2017) it clearly states that developers must think about the needs of people with disabilities from the beginning of the design process and failure to make a site accessible could lead to criminal action! For the moment, I will go back to the shop analogy I used in the last blog, if we think of a wheelchair as assistive technology and the wheelchair user could not get around the shop to look at the items or the shop did not have a ramp to allow access. The wheelchair user would soon give up trying to use the shop and go elsewhere. For this reason, it is important to make a site compatible with assistive technology to avoid inadvertently excluding people in the community, which in turn helps to maximise the audience.

Sportsman running on artificial leg blades

When building a website, think about all the different types of people in the world and their varying abilities to avoid prosecution. I have already mentioned physical disabilities such as blindness, but what about older people that may be experience memory loss or just finding it difficult to keep up with the pace at which technologies change? The best way to plan and test a new site is to involve people with varying abilities from the beginning as asked by the Home Office in ‘Making your service accessible: an introduction’ (2017) is to recruit people with day to day experience of assistive technologies. Moreover, some users maybe using a text based web browser, which means images will not display. Maybe this seems like a lot of planning, but it is not designed to hinder the web development; rather, ensure that all people in the community have access to a fun and valuable resource such as the Internet. In order to meet the UK Government accessibility requirements, attention must be paid to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0). The guidelines in WCAG 2.0 (2008) by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), headed by Sir Tim Burners-Lee the inventor of the Internet, set out four design principles as follows: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. In other words, a site must consider the user experience and think about the evolution of assistive technologies. Furthermore, developers must involve people with disabilities throughout the design process.

A user may find themselves disabled from using a website only if the developers inadvertently build in a disabling factor into the site. In order to avoid this, taking reasonable effort to involve people of varying abilities at every stage of the design process is highly recommended. Involving people with disabilities will help avoid breaking the law. Considering people with disabilities at the start of the design process rather than an afterthought is the sensible thing to do.

UK Home Office (2017) ‘Making your service accessible: an introduction’ [Online] Accessibility Community  available at https://www.gov.uk/service-manual/helping-people-to-use-your-service/making-your-service-accessible-an-introduction#think-about-accessibility-from-the-start (Accessed on 12/11/17)

W3C (2008) ‘Web Content Accessibility Guidelines’ [Online] W3G available at https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/ (Accessed on 12/11/17)


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