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Why Accessibility is important

An accessible website is important because it means that as many people as possible can use it independently.  It is also important because an inaccessible website can leave organisations open to prosecution under the Equality Act 2010.

Everyone benefits from a clear, uncluttered design that is uniform across each page and which clearly shows how to navigate back and forward through the website.   This is especially true for:

  • people with learning disabilities
  • those who read English as a foreign language, including deaf people whose first language is British Sign Language (BSL)
  • people with little experience of using computers or websites, for example some older people
  • people with poor literacy
  • people with restricted hand movement, including those who use pointers and other devices to access the screen

Certain design features can make a website much more usable and accessible to these groups of users, for example using:

  • large clearly marked target areas for links;
  • images to support the meaning of the text;
  • embedding sound files so that users can listen to the information;
  • navigation sequences that limit the number of ‘clicks’ before reaching the required information;

and avoiding:

  • too many distractions such as animated graphics and moving images;
  • too many links on any one page.

However, some users have very specific needs when accessing websites.

Visual Impairment

The way in which people with visual impairment access websites varies depending on the type and level of impairment and their preferred way of accessing information.  Some people will need to change the appearance of the information on the screen, for example, enlarge (or reduce) the size of text, or change the background colour.  This should be possible with a flexible website designed using CSS.

Others who cannot see the screen or use a pointing device such a keypad or mouse will rely on screen-reading software (SRS).  SRS uses the internal structure of the web page to help the user navigate through the information using the keyboard.  It provides shortcuts by creating Heading Lists and Links Lists which the user can scroll through to find the information they are looking for.  It is vital that these lists make sense out of context. For example, a Links list saying “Read More” or “Click Here” will not be very helpful.

Logically applied Headings will help SRS users follow the structure of the information in the same way that visual users use visual clues to identify Headings and Sub-headings or consult a computer-generated contents list based on Headings.

Examples of this type of software are:

For more information: www.rnib.org.uk search “Beginner’s guide to assistive technology”

Specific Learning Difficulty

People with a Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD) such as dyslexia may need to change the appearance of the screen, for example, change the font, text size and colours used for background and text.  If the website has been created using CSS, they will be able to do this by applying a Style Sheet specially created to suit their preferences.  For more information see: mcmw.abilitynet.org.uk/category/using-your-own-stylesheets

Web Designers can embed optional style sheets in a website, allowing users to change the appearance on the screen without changing content.  This option will normally appear at the top of the screen under the heading Accessibility.  For more information see: www.thesitewizard.com/css/switch-alternate-css-styles.shtml

Specialist software designed for people with dyslexia and others who have reading difficulties can be embedded in a website.  This software supports the user to navigate and understand the information they see on the screen by reading the content.  It does not help visually impaired users who cannot see the screen or use a pointing device.  Examples of this type software are:

Deaf, Deafened and Hard of Hearing

Audio-visual content can make information more accessible to many groups as well as making a website more interesting.  However, in order for the information to be accessed by deaf or hard of hearing users, a textual transcript of both audio and video clips is needed as well as subtitles (captioning) for video clips.  There are two types of captioning:

  • ‘closed’ can be turned off
  • ‘open’ remain visible.

Captioning can also help people with poor literacy or learning difficulties.

For more information see: http://webaim.org/techniques/captions  and https://support.google.com/youtube  search ‘captions’.


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