If I Can Hear What You Can See!

by Donna J. Jodhan

What should developers bear in mind when ensuring that their websites are fully accessible to those who are blind and partially sighted? The short version response in my humble opinion would be if i can hear what you can see then what a wonderful world it would be!

What does this all mean?

When developing a website, developers need to be fully cognoscent of the following:

  • Access technology and how it deals with icons, images, graphics, and pop-up and drop down menus.
  • Accessible file formats.
  • Readable web content.
  • Links that are easy to understand and navigate.
  • Language that is easy to understand.
  • Fields and forms are easy to complete.

This list is by no means complete and I will deal briefly with each component individually. It is a good start and I hope that it helps to get you going on the right track. The one thing that I am going to stress here is that my list not only benefits blind and sight impaired people, it benefits everyone.

Access technology

Blind and sight impaired people use access technology to surf websites. They use screen readers and text magnifiers. For those who are either totally blind or do not have enough vision to see large print, the use of screen reader technology is the preferred method of surfing and for those who either have enough vision to read large print or can do so through the use of magnification, text magnifiers is the preferred method.

A developer needs to keep in mind that screenreading software can have difficulty deciphering and interpreting things like icons, images, and graphics. Accordingly, alt tags with appropriate descriptions of the above need to be deployed. Some screen reading software has difficulty dealing with pop-up and drop down menus.

Accessible file formats

Blind and sight impaired people have great difficulty reading PDF files that are not properly tagged. PDFs are images and this is why. Accordingly, PDF files need to be appropriately tagged and if that is not possible then the developer needs to offer the following types of files: TXT, RTF, Word formats, and HTML

Readable web content

If the content is well organized with headings that clearly identify sections of text, then it makes life much easier for blind and sight impaired surfers. It also makes life easier for general surfers as well. The use of headings and titles are the important variables here and if abbreviations are to be used throughout the website then a list of their meanings up front would greatly help.

Links that are easy to understand and navigate

This applies to links that are appropriately named and life is again made much easier if links are grouped in logical order and should be constructed in such a way as to be easy to find.

language that is easy to understand

Language that is easy to understand greatly benefits not just the blind and sight impaired but also those whose first language is not English.

Fields and forms are easy to complete

One of the most commonly made errors made by developers are the design of fields and forms that need to be completed and/or filled in. Fields and forms need to be appropriately identified so that screen reading technology can correctly interpret and identify them to the blind and sight impaired user.

So there you have it. A good start for you and then there are other things for you to look at such as appropriate foreground and background colors and fonts but that's for another day. Have fun!

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your friendly accessibility advocate wishing you a terrific day. If you'd like to learn more about me, then you can visit some of my blog spots at:
Donna Jodhan! Advocating accessibility for all: http://www.donnajodhan.blogspot.com
Weekly Saturday postings on issues of accessibility: http://www.sterlingcreations.ca/blog/blog.html
blogs on various issues and answers to consumers concerns: http://www.sterlingcreations.com/businessdesk.htm

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