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Public accessibility of a web site

16 March 2011 | admin | Theory

In 1999 Australian Human Rights Council demanded from Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) to re-design the official Olympic Games web site because of the user, who complained that he couldn’t use the web site as he was visually impaired. SOCOG refused to re-design the site, but eventually lost the case in court and was forced to re-design it and pay 20 000$ compensation.

This user wasn’t able to use some of the site divisions, because designers didn’t keep to the standards. Especially those standards that guarantee availability of content to users, using subsidiary means: voice browser (reading the text aloud) and Braille displays (a device which reads text to the user through tactile sensations).

Braille display

Our country is obviously far from the level of development when site owners have to pay compensation to users, who were unable to find information. However, the more accessible your site is the more users can visit it. The more visitors, the larger the profit, and that’s business. Accessibility problem has never been so vital. 2003 in Europe was announced as “the year of people with limited abilities”. The question of device, OS and web site accessibility for people with limited abilities is becoming more and more important. OS and web site designers are getting serious about problems of accessibility, which are supported by the government.

What is accessibility?

In order to call a device, application or web site publicly accessible, all people including those with limited abilities should be able to use all the functions, intended in the product. The higher the level of accessibility, the fewer resources a user needs (sight, hearing, thinking, memory).

Usability and public accessibility have a lot in common as both approaches tend to

1. Increase satisfaction, efficiency and productivity of user’s work with the product
2. Simplify the usage of a certain technology or product for all users or for a certain group of users

However, accessibility is more targeted at people with limited physical, sensor or cognitive abilities.
Internet is intended to make information available to everybody, that’s why web sites, being the most important part of internet, must be publicly accessible. However, it’s not always so, unfortunately.

Further we’ll list a number of problems that users with subsidiary devices, come across every day

1. No alternative text for pictures
2. Too bulky structural elements (for instance tables with too many columns, thick frames, poor contrast between page background and text color)
3. Stream audio/video with no subtitles or text
4. Too few form and frame headlines
5. Program is scripted and coded in such a way that it’s incompatible with subsidiary software
Color is also a real problem. One person out of 12 is colorblind. It means they cannot distinguish between some color combinations that seem visible to others.

What are “limited abilities”?

Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of W3C consortium is based on the fact that there are 750 million people with various disabilities in the world. This number seems exaggerated only at first sight because we take into account only visible and permanent disabilities. Accessibility professionals have an abbreviation – TBA (temporarily able bodied). It’s used to describe people who have no disabilities for the time being. This term reminds us that many of us can get these disabilities for limited time or forever.

The disability can be inherent or acquired (because of a trauma, disease or aging). It can be permanent or temporary. Types of disabilities: motional, sensor (inability to speak and hear, blindness, poor eyesight, colorblindness), cognitive (difficulties in learning, thinking, memory and attention) and linguistic (talking, understanding of speech, reading, writing, dyslexia).

Why is public accessibility so important?

Except for ethic aspects, which are quite important on their own, there are legal and economic aspects:

1. Public accessibility is more and more often becoming a part of anti-discrimination laws, such as DDA in Great Britain and Article 508 in the USA. DDA in its turn clearly focuses on web sites and online services.
2. 750 million people form a considerable audience you can attract by making the site publicly accessible.

How do I create a publicly accessible site?

The development of accessibility is carried out at all stages of the project:

1. Start: test of prototypes on users with different disabilities and define main usability-problems, connected with using the site with subsidiary software;
2. Coding: constantly check HTML-code for conforming to WAI standards; audit site accessibility in different browsers and OS;
3. Final usability testing: make sure that the audience of users selected for testing include people with limited abilities
4. Before launching: make the final check of HTML-code (to make sure it conforms to the latest WAI standards), check site accessibility in different browsers and OS

Many web-developers ignore accessibility because it increases the design costs. This approach is very short-sighted. Re-design, legal fees and expenses will cost much more than accessibility design from the very start.

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