Optimizing Your Chances with Accessibility
Published on March 10, 2004
There are many reasons that justify following W3C Accessibility and U.S. Federal Section 508 guidelines. The first, and most important, is the increasing use of the Web by the elderly, disabled and partially-abled. With an increase in online population comes the opportunity for an increase in readership, users, and online purchasers.
A second important but often neglected benefit of accessible Web sites is the ease with which search engine spiders process and rank compliant, accessible code.
Giving Them What They Want
These days, you can break down the reasons for being on the Web into a few primary categories: entertainment, communication, education and information. Younger people are utilizing the internet to keep in touch with friends, to study, and for entertainment. Older generations are finding the benefits of email to communicate with long-distance relatives and friends. Nearly everyone, though, is using the internet to find information—whether it be headline news, product reviews and places to buy, technical support, or even something as specialized as handicap-equipped minivans. Chances are, if you have an online business, someone is out there looking for it. It’s important that people can find it.
And use it.
Give your potential users what they’re looking for. Give search engine spiders a reason to rank your pages highly. You’ll accomplish both by following accessibility guidelines.
Diving into Accessibility
U.S. Congress modified the Rehabilitation Act in 1998 adding Section 508 to ensure that Web pages delivered by agencies of the Federal Government were made accessible to disabled internet users. Since that time, the W3C has followed suit and published many articles and drafts outlining the best methods to present information to disabled and partially-abled users. Some of their recommendations include not relying solely on color to emphasize content, utilizing markup and stylesheets in a proper and valid manner, providing supplemental text alternatives to non-text elements, context orientation, and clear navigation mechanisms, as well as ensuring that documents are clear and simple.
Utilizing Markup and Stylesheets
The basic guidelines are simple: write your content well, then structure it correctly and separate it from your design in a logical fashion so that reading your code is just as easy as reading your Web pages. Format your content with standards-based formatting and heading tags to emphasize importance, meaning, and hierarchy.