“Smart design removes barriers”

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On this site

For the curious...

...this page describes barriers identified by the U.S. Rehabilitation Act Section 508 Part B, paragraphs 1194.22(a),(b),(d), and (n), and enabling techniques contained in the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. These terms and many more are explained on our "Accessibility jargon decoded" page. We offer complete training on the details: email tom [at] tomjewett [dot] com.

What is an accessibility barrier?

Yes, blind readers can use the Web. So can people with many other disabilities—but only if the page itself doesn't put barriers in their way.

Most people today can easily recognize barriers for the mobility disabled. When we see steps leading to a building, we know that wheelchairs can't use them, and that there must be a ramp someplace. We'll look for the ramp ourselves when we are pulling airline luggage or pushing a baby stroller.

We probably don't even think about barriers on the Web, though, at least if we're like most Web users. But they're there: unintentional, but as real as the steps.

Fortunately, there are well-known ways to identify barriers for disabled readers and well-tested ways to design barrier-free pages that are still attractive to everyone. The technical (and sometimes legal) details of these can be intimidating, but they are the heart of what we do. This page avoids the detail and presents a conceptual look at some of the most common barriers.

Some common barriers

Disappearing graphics

Barrier: Graphics are an important part of Web pages—if you can see them. Visually disabled readers won't get the information they contain, though—unless it's provided in some other way.

An enabled page describes the graphics in a way that voice reading software can use. There are many ways to do this; which one to use depends on the graphic and the amount of information that it contains.

Silent movies

Barrier: Your President or Director has just taped an inspiring welcome message for your Web readers. It's a great feature for your home page, unless a visitor can't hear it.

An enabled page provides captions (open or closed) for all video content.

What's important on this page?

Barrier: Visual readers quickly scan the headings on a page to find sections of interest to them. But if the headings are only shown with bigger and bolder text, they "look" just the same as everything else to anyone who is listening to the page. This is probably the biggest barrier on most sites today.

An enabled page has headings—and other elements with a special meaning, such as lists—written into the code itself. This way, low-vision and blind readers can scan the page using their own special technologies. Fully-sighted readers will never know the difference.

The cat just ate my mouse

Barrier: The graphical user interface and the mouse have been part of the general public's use of computers since 1984 (the year, not the book). We instinctively click on Web form fields and buttons—if we're able to. But some people can't click, either because they can't see the screen or because they can't operate the mouse.

An enabled page provides a way to reach all links and form controls on the page using only the keyboard—usually with the tab key. This is done in the same logical order as a visual reader would use.