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NOVEMBER 23, 2009   

Web accessibility

Blind people using the Web...how ridiculous is that?

Actually, it's not ridiculous, it's more common than you may think. The American Federation for the Blind estimates the total at 1.5 million adult Americans.

For those of us who design and/or build websites this means we have to learn how to make our websites work for everyone. We can do this primarily by making clean, well-coded sites in HTML. A side benefit is that accessible sites should rank well in the search engines. Google calls its search robot "the world's most influential blind user."

Saturday I went to a workshop organized by the Cleveland Web Development SIG and presented by the Cleveland Sight Center and SCK Design, Inc.

What interested me most was a live demonstration of how a blind person uses the web. Randy Knapp, Senior Assistive Technology Professional at the Sight Center, agreed to let me record his demo.

Watch over his shoulder as he describes what makes a website good or bad for a person hearing the site via a screen reader. He uses one called JAWS.

After Randy's demo, Jill Timieski of SCK talked about common coding mistakes that make websites less accessible and how to fix them. SCK VP Patricia Ross explained how accessible websites make good business sense.

A few of her points:

  • Vision problems typically increase as we age, and there are a whole lot of aging Baby Boomers using the Web;
  • Making sites accessible usually means that they work better on mobile devices as well;
  • Accessible sites are more searchable, a big plus for Search Engine Optimization;
  • This type of social responsibility can help a brand stand out in the marketplace.

Web resources

WebAIM.org (Web Accessibility in Mind), particularly Section 508 checklist.

w3c.org Web Accessibility Initiative, particularly Developing a Web Accessibility Business Case.

Adobe Accessibility Resource Center: see quick overview Creating Accessible Sites in Flash.

Try it yourself: Screen Reader Simulator

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