Organizations spend billions of dollars each year to create accessible homes, buildings, and public areas for the disabled. Yet many of these organizations fail to provide the same accessibility on their Web sites. This disconnect between the practice of good accessibility in the physical world and cyberspace is growing while people with disabilities continue to struggle with simple tasks on the Web. Public relations and marketing departments need to understand that just because a design is theoretically accessible, doesn’t mean that it’s easy to use or simple to learn for all audiences.
According to a Neilsen Norman Group (http://www.nngroup.com) study, users without disabilities were shown to have a significantly easier time performing tasks on the Web than people with disabilities. Although it’s not shocking to know that people with vision or motor impairments encounter more problems performing tasks on the Web, public relations departments should be aware of how accessible their company’s Web site is for disabled users.
To start, we’ll focus on users with low vision and those who are blind. It will also be important to know what assistive technologies such as screen magnifiers and screen readers enable disabled Web users.
Low vision is the term eye doctors use to describe vision impairment from conditions such as macular degeneration for which there is currently no cure. Devices such as magnifiers, telescopes and closed-circuit television are designed to help the partially sighted enjoy a quality of life with minimal compromise.
Here are some simple ways you can improve your Web site for users with low vision:
1. Name all graphics. By giving graphics an alternative name (alt tag), including advertising banners, people with low vision who used their browsers to turn off all graphics can still navigate a Web site.
2. Do not blur graphics. Some Web sites blur pictures to indicate something is unavailable, but to the sight impaired the picture is already blurry. If users are turning off graphics to view a Web site they will not see the blurry graphic at all.
3. Text is best. Refer users to alternate ways for getting information that is illustrated through graphics. For example, if you have a clickable map in the locations section of your Web site, provide low vision users with a text alternative.
4. Allow skipping. For animated intro pages – which shouldn’t be there in the first place – provide a fast and easy way to skip. Do not hide the skip button low on the animation and be sure to have it in text rather than within the graphic.
5. Reduce scrolling. Sighted users see what they want on a Web site and then clicks it. For low vision users, they have to find what they need to click on, click on it and then go to it. Long scrolling pages increases time spent on simple tasks.
6. Give prominence to submit buttons. For low vision users who are asked to submit information, place the submit button as close to the last field entry box or selection tool on the form.
7. Provide reasonable timeouts. Some Web sites like priceline.com and other travel Web sites have a timeout feature because information is being passed in real time. Carefully consider how long it will be before a timeout should occur. Users with low vision need more time to accomplish simple tasks.
These seven tips barely scratch the surface of what it takes to make your Web site accessible for people with low vision. Public relations departments should coordinate with Web masters and other online staff to make company Web sites as useful as possible to a broad range of users. For companies who are hired to build Web sites for government agencies or for those government agencies themselves, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires compliance with hundreds of usability and accessibly standards for the disabled. For more information on section 508 visit http://www.section508.com. Public relations departments should be able to answer any questions users may have about their company’s current level of compliance with government standards.
This article, written by Michael D. Driscoll, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.