Web accessibility

I know it’s there!
I can see it….sort of
But I can’t get to it!
Is this frustrating? You bet your sweet potato it is!
As library and information professionals we are by nature information hippies.
We want to share the information love. Free information is our mantra and Library Week is our yearly Woodstock.However when it comes to online information, the way we design and build our resources may inadvertently make us the opposite. The architecture and design of our online information resources can have a significant impact upon its accessibility, with the worst case scenario that it is entirely inaccessible to users. As we are modern information professionals, not the sssh-ing gatekeepers of yester-year, this needs to stop! (However, as a side note, I wholeheartedly encourage the traditional love of cardigans to remain.)

There are some key things you can do to ensure that your content is accessible to ALL of your users. To throw another piece of information-hippy-speak I want us all to make information love not war.

Web accessibility, what it is and why it’s important
“Web accessibility is an approach to web design that aims for maximum inclusion, both in terms of people who use web sites, and the technologies that are utilised in the process.”(1) Given the prominence of the online realm in all aspects of society, ensuring that content is accessible to everyone is vitally important. Not being able to access information because of a disability is not only frustrating it also serves to further the information divide.

The primary developer of web accessibility standards and guidelines is The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Led by the inventor of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee and W3C CEO, Jeffrey Jaffe, the organization has developed standards (or recommendations) with respect to:

• Accessibility of web content
• Accessibility of authoring tools, and
• User agent accessibility
Under the guiding principle: “Web for all, Web on everything”(2), W3C developed web accessibility guidelines back in 2005. The standards, now known as WCAG 2.0, were adopted into the international standard ISO/IEC 40500:2012 and work to provide content developers with the knowledge and tools to ensure content produced is accessible to all web users.When it comes to ensuring that information has been accessible governments have been leading the way by implementing and promoting web accessibility principles. Enforcing compliance by government departments and bodies has been led in part by the prevalence of the online realm as a communication tool and, to drop a bit of a truth bomb, the cost of maintaining online content is significantly cheaper than the costs of the ‘old school’ pamphlet or brochure. However, the standards aren’t just for governments or large organisations. Accessibility should be addressed by all content creators! Everyone! As the guidelines themselves note, by complying with WCAG 2.0 you will make content accessible to a wide range of types of disabilities, including:

• Blindness and low vision
• Deafness and hearing loss
• Learning disabilities
• Cognitive limitations
• Limited movement
• Speech disabilities
• Photosensitivity, and

• Combinations of these (3)

Key elements of web accessibility
So what at the actual guidelines? All the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 are available at http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/ .

Before you attack the guidelines and get your accessibility on, heres an overview of the guidelines.

The guidelines operate with four overarching goals – to make information:

• Perceivable,
• Operable,
• Understandable, and

• Robust

Now these are broad overarching goals. To guide you along the path to web accessibility under every principle there are guidelines. These guidelines are followed by more specific (and tangible) success criteria including techniques for compliance. This success criteria is graded – at what is sufficient (good) or advisory (best).

1. Perceivable
Perceivability is about ensuring that users of all abilities are able to digest the information presented. This guideline focuses upon making video, audio, images and any other non-text media accessible to all users. There are two key ways that you can do this:
– By providing alternate text, captioning, and transcripts, you can make the content accessible to all users irrespective of their ability.

– By providing controls to users such as text resizing, audio control, customizable visual presentation including text, background colour etc.

2. Operable
Operability is about ensuring user interface components and that navigation features are accessible to all users. Operability is about ensuring that:
– The page can be navigated through the keyboard
– No images and videos on the page are capable of inducing seizures

– Any videos or interactive activities allow sufficient opportunities for people with any disability to be able to read/digest the information.

3. Understandable
A key requirement of all online content is that it is understandable by all users.
– The content must be readable, with content able to be easily translated into the language of the user by common translation software in internet browsers, Babel Fish or Google Translate
– The layout and structure of the pages is predictable, with consistent navigation and structure
– The content identifies any errors and helps the user to correct them e.g, required fields in forms
4. Robust

The content must be capable of being read and interpreted by a range of future assistive technologies.

There is also additional guidance to help you comply with the guidelines on the w3c website at http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/

I solemnly swear
After reading post on web accessibility I, [awesome Informed Librarian] solemnly swear to:

Not to put those horrid ‘prove your human’ tests on anything I create ever!
To put helpful alternative text in my images, not just annoying words like “Image 1” or IYGHBLHJ

To create online content that is to the best of my abilities and technological limitations compliant with WC3 guidelines

(1) Dey Alexander, How accessible are Australian University websites? < http://ausweb.scu.edu.au/aw03/papers/alexander3/paper.html&gt; as at 13 May 2015.
(2) W3C Consortium, About W3C (2015) <http://www.w3.org/Consortium/&gt; as at 11 May 2015.
(3) W3C Consortium, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 < http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/&gt; as at 14 May 2015.

Web accessibility is just good usability – Notes from the 18th June lunchtime seminar

This is a public service announcement to all librarians, information managers, web developers, designers and anyone who is responsible for a web page or intranet:

Accessibility is just good usability!

Thanks to the fantastic lunchtime seminar delivered by Darren Fittler of Gilbert + Tobin and Amajjika Kumara from AccessIQ on the 18th of June, members from ALLA NSW learnt both the importance of accessibility and the effect of poor website development and design on disabled individuals.

The expansion into the online environment as a communication/information medium and its rapid popularity presents a fantastic opportunity for the disabled to easily access information and communicate independently. Employing tools such as JAWS (job access with speech) screen readers with vision impairments are able to read and navigate the web without the need to seek the assistance of a sighted person.

This access and independence is dependent upon individuals, organisations, associations, governments developing website that are usable and adhere to the WC3 guidelines. With 20% of the population disabled (either vision, mobility, hearing or cognitively impaired) the development of a website or information product that is not accessible can either render the information product inaccessible or make it incredibly difficult and time consuming for the content to be navigated, understood and used. As a blind person, Darren brought home the impact of inaccessible websites to attendees. Inaccessible websites make it difficult for him to meet the requisite chargeable hours that lawyers must meet. Every hour taken struggling to navigate a website which is created entirely of tables, does not employ or adhere to a style sheet or is dominated by images with no alt text coded is another hour at work and another hour away from his young family.

It is for these reasons it is important for librarians, web administrators, designers and anyone responsible for a website or intranet to consider the accessibility of their online domains. To add further incentive to this social and corporate responsibility the federal government has passed laws to require that websites must receive a level AA+ accessibility rating. This legislation is expected to commence late this this year.

There are a number of free and paid resources available on the AccessIQ website to assist in ensuring that your website meets these standards. 

The AccessIQ website is http://www.accessiq.org/

This post was also published on the blog of the NSW division of the Australian Law Librarian Association http://allansw.wordpress.com/