Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How to Check Your Web Sites Accessibility

by Achmad Solichin

If you're hiring a Web development company to create your website for you, your brief needs to include accessibility. A good developer should already include in their services, but it is important to specify explicitly in the project so that you know what you get. For more information on the different types of accessibility issues to be considered visit to the W3C Accessibility Guidelines. Even with an agreement in place, it is important to do your own testing to make sure that your site is available and complies with relevant laws.

There are several guidelines and techniques for accessible websites published by the W3C, which you will find on their Web Accessibility Initiative website. The techniques are ways to build and test your site and it is important that developers are familiar with what they suggest. To start, here are five rapid tests for your site:

1. Validate HTML and CSS. Assistive technology (devices or software that can help a user with a disability) work better with a valid format. There are two easy ways to check if your site is not correct. The first is to install browser plug-ins or add-ons to help, such as the validation add-on for Firefox, and another way is to use the W3C validator. The validator will tell you about marking errors on your site.

2. View your website using a screen reader. A screen reader is software that reads the content of your site using synthesized speech, and is designed to help people who have difficulty reading a screen. A screen reader is common Freedom Scientific's JAWS. A license for JAWS is quite expensive, but you can use it free for half an hour at a time. The fangs add-on for Firefox can display text to be read by JAWS, which is an alternative cheap and easy. Otherwise, try using the text based browser, Lynx. A text browser is very different from a screen reader, but many of the same problems encountered by users of screen readers will be evident in this browser.

3. View your site using the software to increase (a tool that resembles a portion of the screen). Use a Magnifier if you use Windows, and Universal Access Panel for Mac. Both are bundled with the operating system and are explained in the help.

4. Navigate to your website without using your mouse. Some people have difficulty using a mouse. Instead, they may use only keyboards or other devices such as a joystick to navigate through your computer. To test this for you, open your favorite web browser and try to navigate using only the keyboard.

5. Think about the language you're using. The text on your site should be natural, relatively easy to read and use language as possible. Remember that you may be dealing with people with limited skills in English. And in the case of people with English as second language, which becomes a problem of accessibility. You can get an idea of how easy it is to read your site using the test tool to Juicy Studio Readability, which uses a series of tests to assess the readability of your site content.

If you can navigate and use your site with these methods, and its site is valid, you can be sure your site is much closer to being accessible. You may want to take the test a step further and ensure that persons with disabilities is included with your test user, providing a more definitive answer. This can be difficult to achieve and may require that you hire a consultant specialist in usability. Many consultants have experience in usability testing of accessibility.

About the Author

Achmad has been writing articles, tutorials and some online books for 4 years. Come visit his latest website over at which helps people find the best electrical wall plates and provide some tips about wall plates.