An accessible website is designed technically and in terms of content so that it can be used despite physical disabilities such as impaired vision or blindness. It can be displayed and easily navigated on all Internet-enabled devices in any browser. Ideally, care is also taken to ensure that rarer limitations such as color blindness or illiteracy also do not present barriers.
Detailed explanation of Website Accessible
The term accessibility was originally associated with buildings. For example, buildings that are made accessible to wheelchair users by means of ramps and elevators are considered barrier-free. Traffic lights for the blind or guidance systems for the visually impaired embedded in road surfaces and sidewalks can also be understood as measures for accessibility in everyday life. The term “accessibility” first appeared in connection with software applications in 1993. At that time, the Dortmund Center for Disability and Studies (DoBuS) developed so-called barrier-free user interfaces. The ultimate goal was the availability of all information on the Internet for all users, regardless of specific programs or technical or physical limitations.
Furthermore, accessible websites are also optimized for the use of non-human “visitors” so that, for example, the web crawlers of search engines can do their work without restrictions.
Laws and regulations for accessible websites
Web accessibility laws, regulations, and guidelines are usually based on recommendations from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Since the mid-1990s, this body at the renowned MIT in Massachusetts, USA, has been working on the standardization of Web technologies. As early as 1999, W3C researchers published the first guidelines on accessible websites – the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG). In 2008, the WCAG was updated to version 2.0 and adapted to the possibilities of modern technology.
In Germany, the Barrier-Free Information Technology Ordinance (BITV) has been in place since 2002. Since there are currently no sanctions for non-compliance with the ordinance, not all website operators have implemented it by a long shot. The entire ordinance for the creation of barrier-free information technology in accordance with the Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act can be freely viewed on the Internet.
Accessibility and usability
Two main factors need to be considered for accessible websites: Accessibility and Usability. Accessibility is first about removing any limitations that might make it difficult for visitors to access and view a website. The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), founded by the W3C, has established various accessibility guidelines. The goal is to establish standards that are valid worldwide. Complete accessibility could ultimately only be achieved through international standards conformity.
- ATAG – Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines: guidelines for the use of tools for web developers and web designers. The usability of these tools by people with disabilities is also addressed in the ATAG.
- WCAG – Web Content Accessibility Guidelines: How can website content be designed and presented in such a way that people with disabilities can consume and use it optimally? This guideline addresses information at the user interface as well as text, images, videos or sounds, and code and markup languages that define the structure of a page.
- UAAG – User Agent Accessibility Guidelines: “User agents” are software applications used to access content on the Web. These include browsers and their plug-ins and extensions, media players, readers, and similar display programs. The UAAG explains how to make these programs accessible to users with disabilities.
Being able to call up and display a page is one thing. But usability standards also exist to make it easier for people with disabilities or other limitations to navigate websites, find the content they are looking for quickly, and consume it without hindrance. Factors such as the inexperience of new Internet users (mostly old or very young users) are also taken into account for optimal usability. The relevant international standard is ISO 9241, on which the DIN standard DIN EN ISO 9241-11 used in Europe is also based.
What barriers do users face when surfing the web?
Restrictions that users face when surfing the web can be divided into three main areas. These take into account physical disabilities, limited sensory perception, and device-dependent barriers.
Barriers related to physical disabilities
With two healthy hands, it is very easy to navigate the web. The situation is different if only one or no hand is available or if the user is even physically paralyzed. Spasticity and other motor disorders can also mean that using a mouse is out of the question. These users are dependent on the use of a keyboard. Possibly only one button can be pressed. In this case, it is important that web pages are structured in such a way that content can be called up in a sensible order using the tab key, for example. It must also be clearly visible which element is currently selected.
Developers and designers still face major challenges in this respect. Currently, for example, the use of touchscreens is hardly possible for many physically handicapped people. Famous cases such as the late physicist Stephen Hawking show that alternative operations are possible even with complete physical paralysis. However, the technology and software required for this is not currently available to the mass market.
Barriers to blindness and impaired sensory perception
Blind users and users suffering from impaired vision or other sensory impairments are confronted with various barriers on the Internet:
In the case of complete blindness, output devices can be used that output web texts in Braille. So-called screen readers control the relevant posts. Software for reading texts aloud is also available. For these aids to be effective, web pages must be well structured. Images can be provided with alternative text that describes the image content and is read by screen readers.
People with visual impairments or limited vision often resort to specially adjusted screens. In order to use websites, they have to set both the font size and the fonts as well as the contrasts and colors of the font and background individually in the browser. Where this is not possible, the Internet remains visually closed to them.
In the case of red-green vision impairment, those affected are often unable to distinguish between color-coded page elements. Accessible page navigation works independently of colors or image elements.
Deaf people also use the Internet. However, they have difficulty with written texts, at least if they have been deaf since childhood and only grew up with sign language. Accessibility for the deaf means that websites are alternatively displayed in sign language.
Various cognitive disabilities can cause affected individuals to have difficulty understanding long, convoluted sentences. Complex or eccentrically designed navigations also pose great problems for these users. They need websites in simple language or easy-to-understand language. Wikipedia already offers numerous entries in the English-language version in the “simple English” variant.
Software and hardware barriers
Technology standards: HTML and other standards require careful handling. When coding, care must be taken to ensure that a website is displayed as identically as possible on all browsers. Errors in coding, for example, can cause a browser to fail to recognize special characters and umlauts correctly.
When using content management systems, it is important to remember that these often offer few options for accessible design.
If possible, websites should be output correctly on all available devices. In the mobile sector, websites have for years preferably been provided with responsive design, which automatically adapts to changing screen sizes and formats. In terms of accessibility, it should also be possible to use a website with older devices such as PDAs.
Helping all users on the Internet
Cleanly structured, logically navigable websites with strong content are prerequisites for a positive user experience even without physical disabilities. Showing consideration for truly all Internet users should be an incentive for web designers and developers. After all, accessible websites now also accommodate technical services such as Google’s search robots. Ultimately, the site operator himself benefits from technically flawless websites that are built according to the described accessibility guidelines.
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