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web accessibility

Web accessibility is about enabling equal access to online content and services for all people, including those with visual and mobility impairment.

In practice, authoring an accessible website includes:

Web content accessibility guidelines

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has developed guidelines and tools to aid the growth of the internet including Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

The guidelines (version 1.0) are grouped and prioritised according to their affect on accessibility.

Priority 1

Checkpoints that must be met in order to met basic access requirements. Otherwise one or more groups will be unable to access content.

For example; providing text equivalents for non-text elements (images), creating an interface that is not reliant upon colour cues, and marking-up data tables to distinguish column headers from data.

Priority 2

Checkpoints that should be met in order to remove barriers to accessibility.

For example; using elements that distinguish information hierarchies (titles, headings, captions, paragraphs etc.), separation of form/presentation from content (using stylesheets) and, providing metadata for content pages.

Priority 3

Checkpoints that may be addressed to improve accessibility otherwise one or more groups will find it somewhat difficult to access content.

For example; expansion of acronyms and abbreviations, providing summaries for data tables and grouping related links.

Accessibility, e-government and standards-compliance

…government-use requires equal-access to online information and services

A key driver for the implementation of accessibility guidelines has been government and government-agency use of the web.

Government-use requires equal-access be provided to online information and services—including access for those with visual or motor impairment.

In New Zealand equal-access has been legislated in the form of the New Zealand Government Web Guidelines and in the US through an amendment to the Workforce Rehabilitation Act: Section 508.

Code validation and accessibility

Valid code alone does not ensure that web content is accessible…

Web accessibility initiatives often include a validation process; checking the code of a webpage against a formal technical or applied standard, often using an automated service (validator).

One of the limitations of automated validation is a literal (non-contextual) interpretation of a standard. A validator can only be used to check the accuracy of markup and not whether or not the markup is appropriate.

For example, to increase the size of text an author could use a heading element:

<h1>This text will be larger</h1>

As the markup is ‘correct’ in terms of structure and syntax, it will both make the enclosed text larger and pass an automated validation test. However using semantic markup to create a visual effect is an inappropriate application of the standard.

Based on the use of the heading element (<h1>), the text ‘This text will be larger’ is accorded a greater relative importance than the surrounding text. This ‘relative importance’ may then be reinterpreted, for example factored into search ranking for the webpage; or repurposed, for example used by a screen reader to quickly ‘scan’ content.

…validation [avoids] coding errors that may have an adverse affect on accessibility.

The key benefit of validation is in avoiding markup errors that may have an adverse affect on accessibility.

For example, failing to close an element may affect both the visual presentation and the semantic meaning of content. At its most extreme, poorly formed markup (or ‘tag soup’), can result in an unusable webpage.

Valid code alone does not ensure that web content is accessible—however content may be made more accessible through considered adherence to relevant technical and applied standards.

Related terms: alt [tag] text, New Zealand Government Web Standards and Recommendations, Section 508, semantic markup, tags/elements, usability, validation

 

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