Wednesday 4 August 2010

8 Features of Accessible Websites (Part 1)

Welcome to the second part of our 'Social Media 4 Non Profit' series.

This week we'll be looking at accessibility, making sure that when you do drive traffic to your website your visitors can get to the information they need. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) launched a Web Accessibility Initiative with the aim of ensuring that all web content is available to users regardless of technology, disability or ability. This had lead to the development of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG.

In this post we will highlight 4 of the 8 features that we feel are most important for ensuring your website is accessible.

1.Your website works in any browser
Accessibility doesn't necessarily mean that users can't use a mouse or need bigger text, it can be as simple as making sure your website works in a wide selection of web browsers. All browsers render your website slightly differently, and even a few pixels can make a huge difference to the accessibility of your website.

As an example, we developed a website that had white text on top of a blue menu background. In Firefox and Internet Explorer it looked great, but in Safari the white text had dropped from the blue menu background onto the white page background so users couldn't navigate from the home page, making the site unaccessible to anyone using an Apple Mac.

2. Your website can be navigated and used without a mouse
Some of your visitors may be visiting your website without a mouse - either they are unable to, or their mouse may be broken or they may be on a mobile device, so you need to check that your website can still be used. Try going 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.

3. The text on your website can still be read when made bigger
Again, this isn't just for people who have problems with their sight, but also for people who are using a netbook perhaps or have changed their browser settings. Each browser allows users to set their preferred text size, so you need to check that your website will still be legible if the text size has been doubled and that menus are still usable.

4. Audio content is also available visually (and vice versa)
Surprise, surprise - it's not just those with hearing and sight disabilities that would like alternative content formats. Maybe speakers are broken or a computer doesn't have a sound card, providing a transcript of an interview or subtitles to a video clip can help everyone. Likewise someone with dyslexia may prefer to listen to an interview rather than read it, so either provide an alternative format or ensure that the content can be easily read by screen readers.

It's all about your audience
We could go into much more detail about accessibility (and it may be a future series perhaps!) but this post is intended to highlight 4 of the basic areas that should be considered. Your target audience (for example a non-profit dance group will have a totally different audience to a charity supporting blind people) will determine how far you need to follow the guidelines - just remember it's your audience you need to please!

If you feel there is anything I have missed or should add please comment below, all feedback is welcome and it would be great to make this series a comprehensive information resource.


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