Thursday, 9 April 2009

How to...find out if your website is accessible in 6 steps

The Disability Discrimination Act states that businesses must make reasonable adjustments to ensure that their information (among other things) is accessible to everyone. How far you choose to go with it is up to you, and will depend on your target audience. However, there are a few simple checks you can carry out on your own website to get an idea of how accessible your website is.

1. Is your website code valid?
Valid code means that it has been written according to a set of guidelines. Think of it as writing an essay using correct grammar. If the reader isn't distracted by poor spelling and misuse of characters like semi-colons, they find it easier to read, if the structure is logical it makes it easier to understand. So while valid code isn't the be all and end all of accessibility it's a good starting place.

The easiest way to check your code is to visit The W3C Markup Validation Service and enter your website address, this will then let you know how many errors are in your code. If this number is high, it is may be worth getting your website looked at.

2. Do Images have descriptions?
All images that display information should contain a description, in an 'alt' tag. In Internet Explorer, hover your mouse over an image and a description should appear. Check that this relates to the image and is an accurate description. This text will appear when images cannot be displayed, or will be read via a screen reader to those with visual impairments.

3. Does your website have a sitemap?
Somewhere on your website there should be a link to a sitemap or a list of all pages on your website. This allows visitors to quickly see exactly what content is available on your site and stop them getting lost on your site.

4. Do you need a mouse to access your website?
Leave your mouse alone and try to navigate through your website using the TAB, SHIFT+TAB and ENTER or RETURN keys on your keyboard. If it can't be done visitors who cannot use a mouse will not be able to access your website content.

5. Do links make sense out of context?
Read through the links on your website. Can you tell just from the link text where it will go? For example a link saying 'Contact Us' tells visitors you are likely to get to a page containing contact details, while 'Click here' or just 'here' could lead anywhere.

6. Can your text be resized?
For visitors with poor visibility it must be possible for the text on your website to be resized. To check that this can be done in Internet Explorer go to 'View' > 'Text Size' > 'Largest'. Make sure your website can still be used at this size.

These are basic accessibility checks and will not give you a full review, but can give you a good idea. If lots of issues arise from the checks above it is highly likely that your website is not accessible. For a full accessibility review of your web site call Picseli on 01792 222302.

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