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Online accessibility: what you need to know

For me being online is everything: It's my hi-fi, my source of income, my supermarket, my telephone. It's my way in.Screen reader user, Web Developer and Programmer
There are some 10m disabled people in the UK, with a combined spending power of around £120bn - clearly, online accessibility is an issue that cannot be ignored.

There is still no UK test case for accessibility online, but “reasonable adjustments” to make your sites accessible to all are still a legal requirement. So Foviance’s Lis Shorten explained, speaking at an APA event on 15 September.

She described that many users with visual impairments scan the web in high contrast mode, reversing black and white for a clearer display. (You can see how your site would look in high contrast in Windows via a quick change from your control panel.)

For blind users, screen reading software, like Jaws converts text to speech, sometimes up to 300 words per minute. Barriers to accessing sites for screen reader users include:

  • A lack of alt text on images, or unreadable words within images – alt text should include what’s important about the image, but not already in the body of the article
  • Banner ads without alt text - all the relevant information displayed in the ad should be included
  • Flash-based features and interfaces, including interactive magazines, can prove inaccessible, though writing accessible Flash is also possible
  • Poorly contrasting colours – Shorten recommended Paciello’s colour analyser tool to test the most readable colour combinations
  • Links which read ‘click here’ - screen reader users regularly tab through all links on a page, or extract links and order them alphabetically. Links saying ‘click here’ tell users nothing, and make reading more time consuming

Page titles (the text that appears at the top of your browser pane) are vitally important, as the first thing a screen reader picks up – confirming to the user they’re on the correct page, and should also have a clear hierarchy.

Here, as in many of the other area's outlined, making content accessible also tends to match effective SEO, she said.

Shorten concluded with the following statistic: by 2050, 50% of the UK population will be 60 or over - online accessibility can only become an increasingly important factor in the years ahead.

More information on the event.

Homepage image by Wordle

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