Over the course of a business day at WeCo we encounter many employees who work as website developers and designers. Most have the same question when they begin working with us: where’s the checklist?
It’s extremely typical for web designers, developers and content managers to view website accessibility as purely a formula process because that’s how their world works. When your daily job involves trying to get code to behave to obtain certain outcomes, it’s very easy to think that incorporating website accessibility attributes into a website, will work the same way.
But a very large part of WeCo’s aim, particularly related to the “mission-based” part of our company, is to teach talented web professionals how to factor in the experience of the people living with disabilities, as they use their websites.
Knowing the “why” helps developers and designers get the “how” part so much more easily. Our training includes what is for many, a first introduction to the four major disability classifications people live with–Hearing, Sight, Motor Skill, and Cognitive–(recognized by the US Department of Human Services) and leads the group into a discussion of how those disability types interact with websites. A large part of our training includes a synopsis of the most common types of devices people use with certain disability classifications. The attendees also learn that not all people living with disabilities use devices, but that there are still special accessible website design considerations that need to be made for those individuals.
Because this training is so helpful to many of the designers and developers with which WeCo works, we wanted to provide an overview of what we cover in that training for our blog and social media readers. We hope this information will assist you in understanding the “people side” of web accessibility. This will enable you to develop and design for a person’s needs, instead of the needs of a checklist.
The following information is taken directly from WeCo’s course materials, “The E-World of People Living With Disabilities.” Please use it and share it with the compliments of WeCo’s Test Management Team. WeCo offers a complete 2 hour training for web staff and employees who interact with individuals who live with disabilities. See the WeCo Services for more information.
NAVIGATING THE INTERNET WITH A DISABILITY
Having a working knowledge regarding the challenges people living with disabilities face when using the Internet, and devices they may use to assist them, will help you better understand how to develop your website for accessibility. Keep in mind that this is just a brief overview and by no means a comprehensive list of user needs and/or devices.
Motor Skill-Related Challenges
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People who live with limited movement in their arms and hands may or may not choose to use devices to assist them with computer access. Those who do use devices may use a range of modified keyboards, such as a half-qwerty, which enable someone to type with one hand, or a keyboard with a keyguard or cover, which helps the user to select one key at a time more easily. Other devices might include a pointer stick which enable the user to select a key at a time, and modified mouses, such those made for foot-use and roller balls and joy sticks fashioned for easier manipulation of the cursor when someone has limited fine motor skills.
Designing for this user means that limited “clicking and scrolling” will go a long way in improving usability of your website. Putting some space between links also makes them easier to select if a hand is hard to steady. When designing forms, make sure that they don’t “time out.” If the form does have a timer, give the user the option to stop it so they don’t lose their information if completion might take a while.
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People who live with hearing-related challenges may be able to hear some sounds, or may not hear any sound at all. They may chose to use a device such as a hearing aid or cochlear implant (surgically placed device to enhance sound in the ear), or may prefer not to.
For this user it’s important to focus on the “when sounds equates access” aspects of your web pages. If being able to hear is required in order for the user to receive information, you need to make some adjustments. This is most common when videos are present on web sites. In such cases, it’s important to use captioning to ensure that the user can access all information delivered via audio. Our staff often recommends the use of YouTube to clients as an easy way to provide captioned videos. Just be aware that you will need to edit the script to ensure that translation is accurate.
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Most often the needs of users who live with cognitive-related disabilities are overlooked in web design and content management. This is not uncommon with disabilities that are “hidden” or not obvious when you look at someone. Cognitive disabilities can range from intellectual (once called developmental) to memory-related (such as from a brain injury or Alzheimer’s disease), and can also include learning disabilities (dyslexia) and behavioral disorders and mental illnesses (Attention Deficit Disorder, depression and other types of mental illness.) Seizure disorders, such as Epilepsy, must also be considered in accessible web
design because certain types of flashing graphics can trigger seizures.
Some individuals who live with cognitive disabilities may use devices, such as touch pad tablets with button-like touch screen controls and pictoral representation, to access websites. A close cousin to these devices would be the touchpad screen technology being released by Apple, Microsoft and other manufacturers, for mainstream audiences.
Part of good accessible design for users living with cognitive-related challenges lies with sound content management practices. Web pages that are not cluttered, text that is written in a simple, straight-forward manner and images and graphics that enhance content but don’t distract, are a good place to start. When websites are evaluated with WeCo’s Standards of Access, we discourage the use of moving or flashing graphics altogether, knowing how problematic they can be for our testers living with cognitive-related disabilities. (WCAG 2.0 does allow these if they can be controlled by the user and the flash rate is at a low threshold.)
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The first thing you need to understand about a user living with a sight related disability is that your web page may be an “audio” medium, instead of a “visual” medium for them. Many of these users employ screen reader software which reads a web page aloud to them. Other users may be able to see you website if the page is enhanced and may use screen magnification software for that purpose. Deaf-Blind users may use a device called a Braille Display or Translator to have your website content delivered to them on a special keyboard of shifting raised Braille letters.
Often web designers feel most intimidated by making sites accessible to users living with sight-related disabilities. What I tell each class of web staff I work with is that if they set up a web page, using their web development software and CSS as it was intended, developing for users with sight-related challenges is not at all difficult. In short, this group needs solid navigation points for their software and devices to locate, so that they don’t have to listen to an entire page to find something located at the very bottom. This means that if you formally label headings, bullet points, links, navigation bar elements, etc. in your HTML, you’re basically covered. It’s also important to note that images and pictures are extremely important to people living with sight-related disabilities because they convey information they don’t want to be left out of receiving. Adding proper alternative text tags will solve this issue.