Delving into accessiblity.
Recently, I have been teaching myself website accessibility. This is not something I consciously decided to undertake; in fact, I quite accidentally stumbled on Mark Pilgrim’s most excellent Dive Into Accessibility site, which is about as comprehensive a resource as one could ask for.
The site is split into 30 sections, intended to be read one day at a time over the course of a month. I went through all thirty in a couple hours, and learned more than I thought was even learnable. Some techniques were obvious, others not so apparent. Since I switched my development habits over to standards-based markup over a year ago, I am already ahead of the game. XHTML naturally facilitates the proper use of header and paragraph tags, giving every link a “title” attribute and every image an “alt” attribute, as well as proper DOCTYPE and language declarations.
However, Mark also explores accessibility features that are not immediately obvious. These are the elements that developers have to consciously implement. For instance, adding navigation aids inside the <head> element can make a huge difference in navigating with JAWS, Opera and iCab. Also, adding an invisible link to skip navigation helps screen readers get right to your content without trudging through a block of links. To the normal browser and user, the link is invisible; to a person using a screen reader, it is a godsend.
Also important are the purely visual elements of a web page. Discretionary use of color, making sure links are underlined, and carefully implementing font sizes are all covered. While it may seem as though these ideas further constrict design possibilities, it reinforces the notion that well-designed sites can cater to the greatest possible audience.
All this is personally important because I concurrently develop three non-client sites:
- kevinpotts.com: My personal portfolio site, still not fully realized, but getting there. I would estimate it is 90% accessible (still working with font sizes) and 75% complete (still filling out the portfolio section).
- pointguru.com: A site dedicated to better use of PowerPoint through design. This is still a work in progress, but I hope to officially launch it sometime this summer. When it does launch, it will be the most standards-compliant, accessible and CSS rockin’ site ever created about a Microsoft product.
- graphicPUSH: Probably the site I spend most of my time with, tweaking, refining and developing content. Right now, it’s a hodge-podge of XHTML (not valid) and CSS layout, with very little consideration for accessibility. I have begun the par-for-the-course redesign process, and the new site will benefit heavily from the massive amount of standards-related stuff I have learned since the October 2003 launch. Until then, my flagship will suffer some markup holes and structural embarrassments.
Despite the tragically non-valid graphicPUSH, I am now a member of GAWDS. Not sure why I’m mentioning this, other than the coincidence in timing, but methinks the organization’s goals are worthy. Check them out if you haven’t already.