Beyond basic web accessibility

Written by Jamie Freeman

Some of the reasons you might want to consider more advanced accessibility features could be:

  • You predict a large percentage of disabled site users
  • You want to demonstrate a positive attitude to the issue
  • To show that your quality systems extend to web best practice
  • To satisfy specific funding requirements

So what are these advanced accessibility features? Read on for descriptions of some of the ways Message can take your website beyond basic accessibility.

If you need a little grounding in web design accessibility in general you might want to read our Business Case for Web Accessibility article first.

Access keys

Access keys provide disabled users with a standardised set of navigation aids that are accessed using the keyboard from anywhere on the site. This cuts down on the need to use a mouse which can be difficult for people with reduced motor functions. These are the access keys used on the Message site:

If you are using Windows, press ALT + an access key; for Macintosh users, press Control + an access key.
1: Home
2: Skip Navigation
9: Contact
0: Accessibility Statement

Home Link

This takes the user to the home page of the site. This clear route back allows users to get to the top of the navigation tree without having to negotiate back buttons or menus.

Skip Navigation

Sighted users only look at the menu when they need to. But non-sighted users who use speech readers, will have to listen to the menu being read out on every page they visit. Skip Navigation links, or 'skip nav', allow users to jump over the menu, saving them the tedium of hearing the menu each time. It also allows keyboard (or other device) users to jump over the menu rather than having to tab through each item.

Contact and Accessibility statement

Another couple of access keys aimed at providing keyboard access to common functions, they simply take the user to the site's contact or accessibility statement pages.

Accessibility Statement

It's good practice to create a page which describes the accessibility features of the site, and the site's commitment to accessibility. Press the relevant access key to take a look at Message's accessibility statement.

Site Map

A site map, properly done, is an excellent navigational aid for all users, regardless of physical ability. Many sites consider their main navigation system to be sufficient, but for many users this isn't always the case. The site map itself should be simple, providing links to the entire site. Of course, the site map page itself must be fully accessible.

Acronyms and Abbreviations

Acronyms and abbreviations can be difficult for users who don't understand the terminology, or have cognitive or language problems. The solution is to mark up the HTML in such a way that it explains the meaning of the acronym or abbreviation, for example 'WWW' means 'World Wide Web'.

Wait, there's more!

The items listed above are some of the important measures we can take to make your site even more accessible. The Worldwide Web Consortium have defined the *accessibility guidelines to which most practitioners refer (including the RNIB). They can be found at:
http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20

Just how long IS this piece of string?

The lengths to which site owners go to facilitate access are usually balanced with other practical issues such as cost of development or their potential audience.

A real world analogy might be that of different types of building. A restaurant would want to be able to cater for disabled users by putting in wheelchair ramps and accessible toilets, for example. A health clinic would expect to encounter a broader range of disabilities at a greater frequency, so the steps they would expect to take would reflect this.

The most important thing is to demonstrate a positive commitment to accessibility, and to uphold the spirit of any relevant legislation.

*Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 W3C Recommendation 11 December 2008 succeed WCAG 1.0 which was published as a W3C Recommendation May 1999.

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