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April 16, 2012

Integrating accessibility features into technical content

Accessibility is a term commonly associated with the process of making content available for people with vision, hearing, and mobility impairments.  In reality it should also include the process of making content accessible for everyone regardless of ability or background.

Hello, my name is Holly Mabry.  I joined Scriptorium as an intern in the middle of February.  One of my biggest interests is working with accessibility issues in relation to electronic information.

One of the biggest mistakes that developers make in terms of accessibility is adding it as an afterthought after the product is finished.  It would save a lot of time and money if it was added into the project development cycle from the start.

Here are a few things to think about when developing websites, apps, or any other accessible electronic content:

  • Keep it simple. Say what you want to say and be done with it.  Include well defined headings and separate your content into readable chunks.  Often, flashy extras designed to make information look pretty can create frustration for screen reader users.
  • Good color contrast. Foreground colors should be easy to read over the background colors. AccessColor is a good color contrast analyzer for websites.
  • Captioning or transcripts. Videos should be captioned, or include a transcript alternative.  YouTube offers a captioning option.  This extra step is helpful for the deaf and hard of hearing, and also allows those who are in a setting where audio is not appropriate, to still get the most from the video.
  • Labels. All images and tables that display useful content should have a description with the basic point the image or table is trying to portray.  Screen readers such as JAWS for Windows rely on these descriptions.  They are also helpful for browsers with images disabled.
  • Text size adjustment.  Most modern browsers allow for text size adjustments through the “ctrl ++” or “ctrl -” commands.  Use text wraps to prevent the text from crowding when enlarged.
  • Keyboard navigation. Provide keyboard access points to allow screen reader users and other non mouse users to navigate through the page. Include a skip content option so that the keyboard commands don’t have to slog through unwanted information.

Additional resources

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines:  Official set of web accessibility guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium.  Resources for understanding and implementing Section 508. This law requires all federal affiliated websites and other electronic content to be accessible for people with disabilities.

I also keep a fairly exhaustive list of accessibility related resources on my blog: Accessibility and Technology Geek listed under the page Accessibility Resources.