Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Anti-Accessibility Practices- What You Shouldn't Be Doing

by Maneet Puri

The concept of Website Accessibility has evolved into a serious issue over time. Building an accessible website not only qualifies a website for meeting the web standards but also guarantees increased traffic inflow.

However, in a bid to make websites better, web developers often end up doing mistakes that have an anti-accessibility affect on the site. Here are some very common ones:

Overdose of Verbose ALT text

Web developers often end up inserting a bit too much ALT text on to the images so that it gets easier for the screen readers. But they don't realize that this overdose would be too much for the screen readers and listeners will be confused all the more.

ALT text for relevant images should be kept short; just so much that tells what the image is about. For any decorative images you have, give out a null ALT text (alt="")

Random Characters separating Links

Ideally, adjacent links should be separated with a non-link text. What web developers do is they insert invisible characters between the link so as to space them out. But when it comes to screen readers, it's read as link vertical bar link. And that sounds ridiculous.

Using Access Keys

Access keys can nullify keyboard shortcuts for screen readers thus making it absolutely useless. Moreover, there is no convention as such on these so websites use them as and how they like.

Using Table Summary unnecessarily

Table summaries essentially summarize the contents of a table and can be inserted on to just any HTML table. Screen readers usually read aloud the summary before proceeding towards the table.

However, undue usage of table summaries can hamper the accessibility feature of the website altogether. Most often than not, there is sufficient information provided on the website about any data tables that re there. So explaining that yet again will be a sure waste of time.

Content Considerations

Content forms an important feature of the accessibility aspect of the website. A perfectly coded website can be the least appealing if it doesn't carry good content within. Not only that, users with special needs will be unable to read through rendering it useless from the accessibility perspective. Here are some key points to keep in mind about the website content:

* Front-load the content in order to make each paragraph start with a conclusion * The content should be arranged into meaningful paragraphs with appropriate sub-headings * Make use of lists * The language should be simple

Accrediting Acronyms and Abbreviations

Ideally all acronyms and abbreviations should be expanded to their full forms so that screen readers can read through easily. But that is not quite possible every time and developers end up using the or tags. But then not all screen readers support this tag. General users can benefit from viewing the expanded form at the tool tip. But users with special needs lose out on that.

It can sure do as a usability enhancement tool but from the accessibility aspect it scores zero.

About the Author

Maneet Puri is the managing director of LeXolution IT Services, a premier web design services company based in India that provides web design & development solutions and other website maintenance services. With 10 years of experience in the industry, Maneet has