Barrier-free Web Design

It is possible to create web pages that are both visually appealing and fully accessible to users with disabilities. In this context, accessibility means that the menus are readily navigable and that the content itself is in a format that users with disabilities can "read" independently. Design of this nature is also referred to as "universal web design" meaning that it can be "read" by all.  The template developed by Communications & Public Affairs provides for accessibility.

The guidelines announced by the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Access Initiative (WAI) have been promoted in Canada since February 2000. Since then, many public educational institutions, such as schools and universities, have been moving to meet these guidelines and Western is following this initiative. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities (AODA) has proposed an Accessible Information and Communications Standard for consideration as law.

The complete guidelines and checklist is available at http://www.w3.org/wai/. However, the following list of quick tips may make it easier for designers and developers to see where the principles of accessibility can be incorporated.

Quick tips to make accessible Web sites

  • Images & animations. Use the alt attribute to describe the function of all visuals
  • Image maps. Use client-side MAP and text for hotspots
  • Multimedia. Provide captioning and transcripts for audio, descriptions of video, and accessible versions in case inaccessible formats are used
  • Hypertext links - Use text that makes sense when read out of context. For instance, do not use "click here"
  • Page organization. Use headings, lists, and consistent structure. Use CSS for layout and style where possible
  • Graph & Charts. Summarize or use the longdesc attribute
  • Scripts, applets, & plug-ins. Provide alternate content in case active features are inaccessible or unsupported
  • Tables. Make line by line reading sensible. Summarize. Avoid using tables for column layout
  • Check your work. Validate the HTML. Use evaluation tools and text-only browsers to verify accessibility or other assistive devices if available

Some additional relevant links:

W3C HTML Code Validator: http://validator.w3.org/

Bobby, a web-based tool that analyzes web pages for their accessibility to people with disabilities: http://www.mardiros.net/bobby-accessibility-tool.html

Employment Equity and Diversity Web Site: http://www.psc-cfp.gc.ca/plcy-pltq/eead-eeed/index-eng.htm

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