Accessibility for Dummies?

Is there an ‘Accessibility for Dummies’ document you could share with me?

As usability experts, we are occasionally asked about accessibility. Sometimes, we’re asked to help define and identify what accessibility means, and how it relates to a particular web site. This is tricky, because the degree and the kinds of accessibility that are appropriate for one site’s audience might be overkill or useless for another, so, as always in our world, it depends.

Accessibility is a very broad term, and it has very fuzzy edges. In the most general sense, it means making everything — businesses, services, buildings, governments, transportation, etc. — usable by people with disabilities. In the web context, it means making websites usable by disabled people.

The web has become a vital resource for some people with disabilities because it helps avoid many of the barriers of the physical world. So many things that able-bodied people take for granted (banking, shopping, and accessing government services, to name just a few) can now be accomplished by people with disabilities without the assistance of another person. This kind of independence represents a huge improvement in quality of life for many people. This is why accessibility for websites is an important consideration.

But what can we, as web designers and developers, actually do for these users?

The main thing is to recognize that people with disabilities often use some form of assistive technology to help them use the web. A common example is the screen readers that people with visual impairments might use to read web pages aloud, but there are plenty of other examples. Making a website work for a screen reader or other assistive technologies is largely a matter of understanding how those technologies work, and designing and developing sites to work well with them.

If you’re planning to make your website accessible, there is an evolving set of tools, coding techniques, and best practices to follow. A good place to start is with the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative. They’ve produced guidelines as a reference point for measuring accessibility under four principles: web content should be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. For instance, providing text alternatives for images is one way of making content more perceivable.

To learn more about each principle, start with the Web Accessibility QuickTips provided by the W3C. To dig deeper, try the How to Meet WCAG 2.0 quick reference guide.

Other great accessibility resources include the following:


Got any accessibility experiences you would like to share? We’d love to hear about them.