This past week I did something I’ve never done before. It was a personal agenda, a combination of portfolio polishing and accessibility karma.
This past week I did something I’ve never done before—I went back and changed a website that has long been finished and paid for. The client did not know I was making the changes, and I certainly did not charge for them. It was a personal agenda, a combination of portfolio polishing and accessibility karma.
KDM Global Partners hired me to put together a small, brochure-style website that gave a bird’s-eye view of their business and services. It was my first client site built with XHTML/CSS standards. Since this was in my “early” days of W3C-endorsed development (I’d been a table-whoring heathen for years prior), I spent a lot of time on cosmetics and less time on accessibility and proper SEO.
So last week I went through all seven (!) pages. I cleaned up the CSS and HTML, putting into practice several techniques learned in the past year or so and streamlining the files with less clutter (fewer <span> tags and “class” definitions). Not only did this bring down file sizes a few bytes, put it made the content far more crunchable for search bots.
But the most important site-wide alteration was the addition of accessibility features. I recently devoured Dive Into Accessibility, and adopted several important techniques into the KDM pages. Specifically:
- All pages now have language declarations.
- All pages now have navigation aids.
- All pages have an invisible link to skip the navigation.
- All links are clearly defined by bolding and underlined.
- The contact form is totally revamped with <label> tags and a tab order. It’s still built with tables, so don’t beat me up over that.
- The pages are perfectly acceptable with stylesheets turned off. I also used the ”@import” technique to hide the CSS from Netscape 4.
None of this affected the cosmetic appearance. Only the backend was changed, and every page displays perfectly in every browser tested, including IE5 IE6, Opera 7.x and the Mozilla/Netscape family.
I initially did this to satisfy my own portfolio—“Look ma, I done built myself an accessible website!” But then I got to thinking. Most standards-aware web designers build accessibility features into their personal sites. This is good practice, but ultimately self-masturbatory. If the practice doesn’t make it to the real world, it might as well not exist.
Unlike graphicPUSH, whose audience (I assume) is comprised mostly of other designers, the KDM pages could be visited by anyone, and until last week, the site was not ready for that. Maybe the whole effort will amount to nothing, but maybe those few extra steps in accommodating less-accessible viewers will someday give a competitive edge.
Wishful thinking? Maybe. Responsible design? Definitely.