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Accessibility & Universal Design

Some Thoughts on Accessibility & Universal Design

By Stephen Rehberg, Web Resources Manager,
Division of Distance & Distributed Learning,
Georgia State University

Disability Services Department

3 simple things you can do now that will help make your site much more accessible right now.

  1. Use alt tags for all graphics and graphical elements

  2. Make your hyperlinks meaningful and not just "click here" and

  3. Use tables without nesting them and with a brief, one-line description such as "A 3 by 6 table demonstrating the growth in taxes over 3 years, 1997-1999."

Some General Hints about Universal Design to Keep in Mind:

  1. Simplify: this needs just a little clarification. Making a web design that is simple is not the same as making a design that is boring. Text data that says nothing or says it badly is boring. Adding a lot of pictures to bad text does not make a good web site. Novice web designers love to experiment with color and pictures and animation and blinking. Novice web designers are as easy to spot as a child's crayon drawing is in an art gallery (Modern Art Galleries may not be included). Focus on a simple presentation of rich material.

  2. Data over Cosmetics: If your site does not give your audience any meaningful information, then why do you have a web site? If you web site is to convey meaningful information then why hide it behind cosmetics? If a graphic is not necessary, then apply rule 1 above; if a graphic is necessary then make sure that everyone is getting the data.

  3. Speed: If a site takes too long to download, then it will see reduced traffic. If the site means to exclude a significant part of its audience then a very slow download is perfect, otherwise, see Rule 1 above. If your web site is confusing to get around and you always feel lost or it takes minutes to find something important, then it wasn't that important or else you missed Rules 1 and 2 above. If your audience has to hunt for what's valuable on your site, then expect to keep your light under a bushel or your treasure buried.

  4. Audience: It's not called the World Wide Web for nothing. Why not reach the widest possible audience with your message, your sales pitch, your teaching? Why increase the gap between those who get it and those who don't? My audience is specialized, you might say. Does that mean your design has to limit your audience as well, shouldn't the data in your site determine your audience and not its accessibility? The idea behind the Internet was not to limit your communication but to expand it.

Roadblocks to Accessibility and Universal Design:

  1. Too many sites with too much vague and contradictory information to sort through

  2. No clear cut, simple steps to designing or bringing a site into compliance without a lot of hunting

  3. Retraining designers to re-think their design strategies is necessary

  4. Burdening faculty with more information and barriers to their teaching is a bad idea

  5. No easy way to test sites that is reliable and accurate (easy is the optimal word)

  6. Having to decide how much responsibility belongs to the designers and how much to the various software and hardware manufacturers

  7. Invisibility of the need coupled with no administrative decree or support from many academic institutions

  8. Money, time and expertise

Brief Descriptions of Why Some Web Design Elements are Inaccessible and How to Avoid them without Taxing your Resources: