How to make your web links more accessible.
Thu, 19 Sep 2002 23:36:41 -0400
How can I make my web links more accessible for people who have low
vision or use vocalization software?...
The resources available via the web are too complicated in that
they require extensive knowledge of programming.
cheers! and kind regards,
oo__ don Warner saklad
2 Linwood Place
Cambridge MA 02139
tel 617.661.9650 voice /call ahead for fax
Thank you for your comments about our site.
[ http://perkins.org ]
We appreciate the feedback and want to do our best to help anyone
who's trying to learn about accessibility issues.
Unfortunately there is no one at Perkins who can provide answers to
the questions you're asking, as we hired an outside design firm,
Nesnadny + Schwartz (www.nsideas.com) to design our site.
The best I can do is to refer you to Web sites and books which were
useful to N+S and our team as we revised our site (see below).
* Designing Web Usability
(according to one of our colleagues, this is "the Bible")
by Jakob Nielsen
* Web Accessibility for People with Disabilities (new)
by Michael G. Paciello
* Site Seeing by Eric Velleman and Henk Snetsebar
* http://www.w3.org/WAI The Web Accessibility Initiative.
Local consulting firm with expertise in making Web sites accessible.
* http://www.cast.org/bobby Bobby access-validation service.
Microsoft's guide to understanding and developing accessible sites.
A page outlining basic guidelines for accessible design.
An article about designing for voice browsers.
I hope you'll find these recommendations helpful. Good luck with your
research, and feel free to visit our site anytime!
Kimberly Emrick Kittredge
Perkins School for the Blind
PS - Below is an article about site accessibility for your reference.
Four Reasons It Pays to Make Your Company Web Sites Accessible
to People with Disabilities
By Jordan T. Pine
October 24, 2001
Try this experiment with your company Web site's home page: Stand where you
can't see your computer monitor and ask someone to sit at your desk. Ask
that person to read your company home page to you, working from left to
right and from top to bottom, without pausing. When he/she comes to an
image, he/she should point to it with the computer's mouse. If no words pop
up, he or she shouldn't say anything. He or she should skip the image and
moving on. If words do pop up, he/she must read only those words and ignore
what the actual image may say.
When the task is complete, ask yourself a basic question: If I were
unfamiliar with my company and wanted to know more about its products and
services, would this audio version of the homepage have helped me get the
message? If the answer is no -- or perhaps a weak yes -- your company has a
problem, according to Kara Pernice Coyne, author of the report "Beyond ALT
Text: Designing Accessible Websites" from the Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g).
That's because the experiment above simulates what it's like to surf the
Internet when you're visually impaired and use a device called a screen
More than 8 million Americans have visual impairments, according to the
National Center for Health Statistics.
About 1.5 million of them use computers, according to the American
Foundation for the Blind. Less than 3 percent of the population isn't a lot
to worry about from a bottom-line business perspective. But there are at
least four reasons why all companies should be concerned with how
accessible their Web sites are for people with disabilities, according to
Coyne and NN/g.
They are: 1. People with disabilities represent an emerging market with
substantial buying power that demonstrates unique customer loyalty to
companies that serve them well.
2. Inaccessible Web sites, especially intranets, may run afoul of laws such
as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
3. As America ages, disabilities such as visual impairment become more
4. When you design a Web site with people with disabilities in mind, you
end up designing a better Web site. This saves time and money spent on
These four points came out of a seminar held Oct. 22 at the Nielsen Norman
Group's "User Experience Conference" in Washington, D.C. The Nielsen in the
firm name belongs to Jakob Nielsen, the nationally renowned Web
usability-guru who has written several l books on the subject. An immigrant
from Copenhagen, Denmark, Nielsen worked for Apple Computer and Sun
Microsystems before co-founding NN/g, a consultancy that helps companies
design "human-centered products and services."
The strength of Nielsen's approach to Web design is best illustrated using
an e-commerce Web site as an example: If 10 percent of site visitors can't
figure out how to successfully complete a purchase transaction, that's 10
percent less revenue for the e-business. Nielsen has gained converts to his
cause by flipping this example around and showing businesses how to add 10
percent more to their coffers just by making their sites easier to use.
Designing for accessibility is a step beyond basic usability, but it's a
step Nielsen believes corporations must take to remain competitive. "It is
not a matter of whether a person uses a wheelchair; in fact, many
wheelchair users need no special considerations at all when browsing the
Web. Rather, the question is whether the user has some condition that makes
it difficult to use traditional computer [devices]," Nielsen wrote in
"Designing Web Usability," his best-known book. "In the United States
alone, there are more than 30 million people who have some such problem.
This is much too large a customer base to ignore."
People with Disabilities: An Emerging Market "Consumers with disabilities
control $175 billion in discretionary income," the President's Committee on
Employment of People with Disabilities reported in 1998.
The Wall Street Journal has called people with disabilities the "next
Coyne put it another way: "At least 1.5 million users are out there,
thinking about shopping," she said, speaking of visually impaired computer
"They could be buying things on your site if you made your products more
accessible to them."
Moreover, once a consumer with a disability finds an accessible site, he or
she doesn't keep it a secret, she said. "Some of these communities are very
close-knit, and word of mouth travels fast when a site isn't good," Coyne
said. "People teach the Web to each other. They call each other for advice.
And the word travels like wildfire if a site is accessible."
Coyne offered 71 tips for making sites more accessible, tips she based
partly on watching dozens of people with disabilities use the Web. Some
examples : Tips #2 and #3: Minimize the use of graphics. Because people
with impaired vision often turn all graphics off.
And fewer graphics means pages load faster. Name all graphics something
that is understandable, and that thoroughly conveys what the graphic is and
does. In the simulation at the beginning of this article, only text that
popped up when an image was touched with a mouse pointer could be read
aloud. That same rule applies to the screen readers blind people use. The
way to make sure the meaning of an image isn't missed is to provide
alternative (ALT) text that describes that image.
Tip #20:Avoid very small buttons and tiny text on links.
People with motor-skill disabilities find it next to impossible to click on
very small things. It's also important to leave space between smaller
buttons and links for the same reason. During one of Coyne's video clips,
conference attendees watched in vicarious frustration as a person with
cerebral palsy spend minutes trying to hit the right button to order a
shirt on an e-commerce site.
Tip #27: Keep the amount of necessary scrolling to a minimum. Long pages
are even longer for people with low vision, many of whom use screen
magnifiers. One such person told Coyne: "A sighted person just sees what
they need and clicks. For me, it's finding what I need to click on, and
then click on it, and then go to it."
The World Wide Web Consortium has come up with a set of accessibility
guidelines called the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Standard. It
contains 17 high-priority rules, 33 medium-priority rules and 16
lower-priority rules that companies can begin implementing right away.
It's available for free at www.w3.org/wai.
Why bother with all of this? Coyne said one reason is that the Web is
tailor-made for people with disabilities. "There was a big sense during
this study of the Internet being a liberating technology [for people with
disabilities], of giving them this outreach and connection to the world,
and an ability to do things on their own without relying on other people to
help them," Nielsen agreed.
"These people get around. They do things," Coyne added.
"But how convenient is it to buy something off the Web? This is a real
Web sites and the ADA: The Compliance Issue With the passage of the ADA in
1990, companies became legally liable for not making themselves accessible
to people with disabilities. The most common example is corporate
buildings: Companies must provide wheelchair-accessible ramps and other
basic amenities, such as appropriate bathroom facilities.
Companies that do business with the federal government also have to comply
with Section 508 of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, which requires
that all federal agencies' "electronic and information technology is
accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and members of
the public," according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
"If you're going to supply services over the Web to federal employees, you
have no choice but to provide 508 accessibility," said Joel Wecksell, chief
of Web usability for Gartner Inc. (formerly the Gartner Group).
"The states will soon move in that direction, and so will Europe."
The courts are still trying to figure out the ADA's reach, and whether it
extends into cyberspace is an open question. But Nielsen and NN/g have
identified one possible red flag in this area: corporate intranets.
"The main reason for making an intranet accessible shouldn't be fear of
lawsuits," Nelsen said. "But a the same time, our study does show there's a
factor of three difference in usability between people with visual
impairments and people without. When you have that big a difference, you
can't realistically talk about equal opportunity for those two groups."
"Besides, if you have any type of real commitment to equal opportunity, you
have to have a commitment to make it possible for these people to do their
jobs -- or it's all just for show," he added. "Since using the intranet is
a key part of almost any job - at least for knowledge workers - if you
can't use it, you can't do your job."
Nielsen's "factor of three" comes from a study in the "Beyond ALT Text"
report of Internet users from the United States and Japan. In the research,
Coyne and her team studied 60 users -- 20 with low vision, 20 with no
vision and a control group of another 20 people. All were asked to perform
the same tasks online, which included finding a fact and buying an item
People with no vision favored screen readers and people with low vision
used screen magnifiers (and sometimes screen readers, too).
The control group was about six times as successful at completing tasks as
people using screen readers, and three times as successful as people using
screen magnifiers. Other measures included how long the task took a user to
complete, how many errors the user made while performing the task and how
satisfied or frustrated he/she was after performing the task.
Converted into an overall usability factor, this yielded the
Looking beyond the numbers, Coyne simplified these findings: "If you own a
company and have an intranet, you want your employees to be happy and
productive. What we found in our studies is if the Web isn't easy to use,
people are less confident, less satisfied and more frustrated. That means
they're obviously less productive and less happy than they could be."
The 'Someday, This Could Be You' Argument Nielsen's next big project is
studying how older Americans function online -- and with good reason. By
2030, there will be about 70 million older persons, more than twice the
number in 1999, according to census projections. People over 65 represented
about 13 percent of the population in 2000 and are expected to grow to 20
percent of the population by 2030.
"Talking about emerging markets, that's a huge emerging market," Nielsen
said. "There's a big bias among many people who think technology is for the
young, but technology is just as much for the old."
One of the characteristics of this market is an increased incidence of
common disabilities. As vision fades, text becomes harder to read and
requires magnification. Hearing also starts to go, and motor function isn't
quite what it used to be.
"As the population ages -- I'm an aging Baby Boomer myself -- you begin to
see that whether it's eyesight or fine motor skills, you need to be able to
address the needs of those markets," Wecksell said.
Something as basic as ensuring a Web site can be zoomed can drastically
improve the user experience for people with disabilities, both young and
old. Yet it's common for sites to unintentionally block this feature
because of simple design mistakes, Nielsen said.
"Estimates are that only 14 percent of people who are younger than 65 years
have some kind of functional impairment, compared to 50 percent of those
older than 65," Nielsen wrote in "Designing Web Usability."
His point was that designing for accessibility is in this generation's best
interest. "Let's design a world that will be good for us," he concluded.
Accessible Web Design is Good Web Design "A comment we often get is, 'Why
should I invest a fortune in just a few percent extra customers?'" Nielsen
said. "One answer is that it's not a fortune, and it may even save you
money - Much of our advice boils down to 'simplify your Web site,' so much
of what we recommend would make your site cheaper to develop."
For example, there are better reasons to make intranets more accessible
and, as result, more useable, than fears over lawsuits, Nielsen said. "If
you're talking about an intranet - you're talking about your own employees
and their productivity," he said. "And the faster you can make people do
things, the less money you have to pay them -- or the more work you can get
out of them for what you already pay them. That's an incredibly direct
connection to [a company's] bottom line."
Times when simplicity serves both people with disabilities and the
non-disabled better include: 1. When the length and amount of explanatory
text is kept to a minimum. This is frustrating for people who listen to
sites and for people who read them.
2. When tiny links are avoided. Even non-disabled people have trouble
clicking on microscopic links, or they miss them altogether.
3. When things are named in an intuitive way. This helps when listening to
a screen reader or using a slow, dialup modem. "When you click the wrong
thing -- and you've waited and waited for something to draw and it turns
out to not be what you wanted -- it's extremely frustrating and time
consuming," Coyne said.
Nielsen has also suggested that accessible designs will better adapt to
future technologies. One example is onboard computers in automobiles, a
feature already available in some cars. Since the driver obviously can't
surf the Web while paying attention to the road, speaking browsers may
become the standard for when we're on the road and online at the same time,
Where To Begin? If a company isn't planning a Web site redesign -- the
perfect time to introduce accessibility guidelines -- Nielsen recommends
reforming high-traffic pages first.
To discover what those pages are, check traffic statistics or make the
assessment based on what the hottest selling products or services are
supposed to be.
As for where to get good guidelines, Nielsen advocates the WAI standard.
"The one thing I want to emphasize is that you don't have a binary choice
between perfection and nothing," Nielsen said. "The right option is to
prioritize the resources you do have on the tasks people do the most, that
are the most critical. Remember that homepages are always the number one
page people visit, and it goes down from there."
"Also make sure that what you do in the future doesn't have those same
design flaws," he added. "It's always much more expensive to go back and
fix a design than it is to do a good design to begin with."
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