Accessibility in practice

by Joe Gillespie — Mar 1, 2002

Optimizing the accessibility of a website is mostly just common sense. There is 'function' and there is 'style' and an imaginary straight line that runs between the two but there are also situations that are some way off that line and not even running in parallel - bad functionality and bad style.

Bad functionality usually happens when the site 'designer' either deliberately, or though ignorance, erects barriers to communication. Just think of all those Flash splash screens with 'loading, please wait...' messages that act like moats and drawbridges around castles. Those are devices intended to keep people out! Why produce a website and then immediately block accessibility?

Hiding hyperlinks – yet another barrier. Hyperlinking is fundamental to the way the Web works. Yes, lots of underlined text can look ugly and be disruptive to reading flow but making the hyperlinks so subtle that they are totally missed is even worse. Just think about all those people who have difficulty distinguishing colours, there are a lot more of them than you think.

Without saying, "always use underlining to indicate hyperlinks", you should certainly make the links obvious to the eye. There are many ways to do this using colour, weight, position and context. It should not be necessary for the user to search them out with the mouse.

Some designers choose to use the latest whiz-bang technologies and work right up against the bleeding edge. Fine, but the relative rarity or reliability of the technologies they are using could well be precluding access even when they are supposedly meant to improve it. The people with disabilities who are most likely to benefit from high accessibility websites don't tend to have the latest computer and browsers - quite the opposite in fact!

Then, there are those people who fail to recognise that long lines of text with no line space are very difficult to read or that italic type is intended to slow down readability and does even more so on a Web page than in print.

Many designers don't understand the differences between paper and screen-based typography and even quote rules and myths that belong in an entirely different context.

Eliminating barriers is the first step to improving accessibility.

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