Accessibility isn't something that should be added onto a web page, it should be baked in.
With yesterday being International Day of People with Disability, accessibility advocates were been out in force to fight the good fight. My tip: for another twelve months, the message will go unheeded, again.
But this year, at least one castle have fallen to the forces of properly accessible web sites: Telstra announced that it is removing CAPTCHA from its web sites and will start to include accessibility requirements in tenders that the company issues for IT solutions in the future.
Kudos to Telstra for making the move, and I look forward to seeing what actions the giant Australian telco takes to handle spam in its comment threads and forums. Finding a replacement for CAPTCHA that keeps spam low, and is fully accessible, has been to this point as successful as attempting to locate a Lost City of Gold.
One article that passed by my eyes is found on the pages of AusRegistry, in it are ten website accessibility tips that should be done for every site that you work on.
In the list are basic tenets such as using valid markup, descriptive links, text to convey any meaning set out in images or colour, and adding useful alt tags for images; as well as some more useful tips such as using form labels so that screen readers can understand the context of a form, and making sure that there is enough contrast between foreground and background colours to cater for users that are colour blind.
A prime example of good web design being good accessibility practice is the recommendation to use semantic markup to structure HTML content. Not only does it help assistive technologies understand the structure of your content, properly organising a page with a hierarchical structure will make styling it with CSS easier, and allow the full usage of CSS clauses and selections.
One way to test the accessibility of your web site is to try to use it in a console browser, such as Lynx. Looking at your page in text-only mode has the added benefit of showing how your page looks to search engine spiders and bots. Need to know why it is best to show your main content up front and as much of the right/left hand columns, headers, and footers to the end? Lynx will show you why.
Another good test of accessibility, and one that is more often a never-ending vain of frustration, is trying to navigate a web site using only the keyboard. I did this on one of my machines for a number of months, and it showed that many designers decided that the humble taborder is not worth worrying about. Worry about it, you'll never know when you'll need it, and you'll be helping out people that rely on it everyday.
To finish off the accessibility suggestion list were a couple of great ideas: captioning videos, a great idea, but one that can be painful in practice to implement; and providing alternate versions of PDF documents in HTML or RTF, as browsers such as Firefox and Chrome embed quick and simple PDF viewers, the accessibility extras offered by Adobe's Reader software often to not make the switch.
The really annoying part with many of these suggestions though, is that they should not be part of an attempt to make sites accessible, they should be an ingrained technique for creating good web sites.
These simple ideas to create an accessible, structured, and valid web site not only help out users of assistive technologies, they also help out the dark arts of search engine optimisation.
In case you think that the internet is becoming a friendlier place for screen readers, go take a look at any modern social network in Lynx, it's not a very pleasant experience is it? This is how some users have to use the internet each and every day.