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Web Accessibility for the Apathetic

2 Nov 2004

If you're like me, you approach the subject of accessibility with a certain self-conscious guilt. On the one hand, you recognize that there are excellent ethical and legal reasons for making your applications - be they web-based or rich client - accessible to those with sensory or cognitive impairments; but on the other hand you can't ignore the fact that the extra work required to add that accessibility is only going to make a difference to a very small percentage of your users.

In recent years, the legal impetus has begun to gain strength, forcing those of us to action who might otherwise have been willing to put our internal ethics department on hold in the name of conserving time and energy. Having spent some time recently working inside a department of the Australian government, I have learnt that the issue of accessibility, in particular web accessibility, has a reasonably high profile. Because government web sites are required to adhere to accessibilty guidelines, there has developed a group, comprised of either moralists or opportunists, who spend their time scouring the web pages of government web sites looking for non-conformances to use as the basis for legal prosecution. American courts have recently ruled that the accessibility requirements pertinent to US governmental web sites are also applicable to privately held web sites. Even your blog counts as material that is made "publicly available", and must therefore be equally available to all.

With these ideas in mind, and also to assuage my growing feelings of guilt regarding the accessibilty (or lack thereof) of this site, I decided to undertake a bit of a site revamp, the cosmetic results of which you will already have noticed. This article provides a brief overview of the process I followed, and thereby gives a general introduction to the tools and techniques necessary to retro-fit accessibility to a site that was designed without specific consideration of that issue.

General Approach

In general, web accessibility can be achieved by adhering to the following two principles:

A good portion of the details appearing below are in support of these two principles. The steps below show you how to transform a non-accessible web page into an accessible one.

Step 1) Ensure all elements are structural

Structural elements those which describe the semantic units of an HTML document. Examples of structural HTML elements are: