An accessible website is compatible with the assistive technologies used by people with disabilities. Dreamweaver MX 2004 automates many elements of creating accessible sites and prompts designers to provide information when necessary. It has also been modified to provide better keyboard access and to work with screen readers. (From the book ASP Web Development with Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 2004 by Rachel Andrew et al., Apress, 2004, ISBN: 1590593499.)
Accessibility and Dreamweaver MX 2004 - Accessibility Overview (Page 2 of 11 )
In general terms, accessibility describes how well web sites work for people with disabilities. An accessible site is one in which design elements such as color, font size, or layout do not obscure the site’s content. An accessible web site is also compatible with the assistive technologies used by people with disabilities.
More specifically, policies such as Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act ( http://www.section508.gov/) and guidelines such as the Web Accessibility Initiative, or WAI ( http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10/) specify what constitutes an accessible site with a series of checkpoints. Each checkpoint addresses issues for specific disabilities and technologies.
This section reviews some of the reasons for incorporating accessibility into web site design, provides a more complete definition of accessibility in terms of the range of disabilities commonly found among web users, introduces some of the assistive technologies used by persons with disabilities, and presents the policies governing web accessibility.
Why Is Accessibility Important?
For most people, the reasons for creating an accessible web site are simple: it is the right thing to do and it is the law. It is often helpful, however, to point out the additional benefits of creating an accessible web site. The following is a list of reasons many find compelling:
Accessibility offers benefits for all users, not just those with disabilities
Accessibility uses innovative technology
Accessibility creates market opportunity
Accessibility Is the Right Thing to Do
Accessibility represents an important step toward independence for individuals with disabilities. Accessible web pages provide access to fundamental government services and information such as tax forms, social programs, and legislative representatives. Accessible web pages also make possible a broader range of employment and educational opportunities by enabling persons with disabilities to use the Internet as a means of communication. In addition, accessibility allows users with disabilities to participate in day-to-day activities many people take for granted, such as reading a newspaper or buying a gift for a loved one.
Accessibility Is the Law for Many Institutions
With new national requirements in the United States, Canada, and the European Union, and more to come in the near future, there are numerous legal mandates for accessibility. These policies will likely expand in scope. In the U.S., for instance, Section 508 sets standards for web pages designed or maintained by federal agencies. State and local governments as well as educational and non-profit institutions around the U.S. are considering their own accessibility policies. For example, in 2001, the University of Wisconsin at Madison adopted an accessibility policy requiring all pages published or hosted by the university to conform to all Section 508 guidelines.
Accessibility Offers Benefits for All Users
As with many improvements intended for individuals with disabilities, the enhancements of accessible design offer benefits for all users of the web. Anyone who has pushed a shopping cart out of a grocery store can attest to the value of automatic doors and ramps cut into curbs. Similarly, accessible web pages are often easier to read, easier to navigate, and faster to download because they are optimized for ease of use. They also tend to contain fewer of the page elements that make sites large and slow to load, such as Flash movies and large images.
Accessibility Uses Innovative Technology
Accessible design is based on the premise that web pages must work with a range of browsers that includes more than just Netscape and Internet Explorer. A page must also be accessible when it is viewed through a screen reader, a refreshable Braille display, or a head pointer. Making pages work with non-standard browsers often makes them available to other consumer Internet devices, such as wireless application protocol (WAP)-enabled phones or handheld personal digital assistants (PDAs).
The techniques of accessibility are based on recent technologies and design strategies. Older, static HTML designs often intermix content with formatting on web pages. Accessibility guidelines encourage the separation of formatting from content through the use of CSS, which allows more flexible use of content and easier implementation of more powerful dynamic models. For more on the use of CSS for accessibility, refer back to Chapter 2 of this book.
Accessibility Creates Market Opportunity
Accessibility offers potential for organizations to reach new customers and new markets. As additional accessibility policies are adopted, governmental and educational institutions will continue to need goods and services that help them comply with the new laws. In the U.S., businesses providing goods and services to the government via the web or other information technology should understand Section 508. Businesses that understand accessibility issues and comply with Section 508 have a strong market advantage. This advantage is multiplied as local governments implement new policies.
This chapter is from ASP Web Development with Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 2004, by Rachel Andrew et al., (Apress, 2004, ISBN: 1590593499). Check it out at your favorite bookstore today.