The web is not usable

Websites 'failing' disabled users

An investigation by the Disability

Rights Commission
people.  This means that many everyday activities carried out on the internet - booking a holiday, managing a bank account, buying theatre tickets or finding a cheaper credit card - are difficult or impossible for many disabled people.  Bert Massie, DRC Chairman described the situation as "unacceptable", and said the organisation was determined not to allow disabled people to be left behind by technology.  A thousand websites were tested for the survey using automated software, and detailed user testing was carried out on 100 sites, including government, business, e-commerce, leisure and web services such as search engines.

People with visual impairments were worst off in the survey, and it's no

surprise.  Designing for the blind and partially sighted means forgoing the eye candy and doing a lot of detail work, like ensuring the alt tags on your images (yes, you do need them) end with a full stop so the screen reading software knows the text has ended.  That tip I got from a partially sighted web surfer (thanks Tulip!) who educated me on site design for the visually impaired.  The article is a good read, and includes a list of design elements to help disabled users:

  • Provide text equivalence for non-text elements
  • Ensure good colour contrast between foreground and background
  • Pages must be usable when scripts and applets are turned off or not supported
  • Avoid movement in pages
  • Avoid pop-ups and don't change window without telling user
  • Divide large blocks of information into manageable chunks
  • Clearly identify the target of each link
  • Use the clearest and simplest language possible

You can test your pages for accessibility with Bobby, a free service that is a big help in making better websites (limited to one scan a minute).  The first Bobby scan is always an eye-opener.  Switching the sidebar from left to right is a big help because screen readers hit the content first, then the navigation, rather than wading through pages of links before getting to the good stuff.  Running the page through a text-only browser like Lynx is another useful test.

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