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Accessibility Standards

Posted on 3.16.2006

It's not just for the visually impaired.

There is more to website accessibility than just catering to the obvious needs of the visually impaired. As the Web is largely visual in nature, blind or partially sighted users can use screen reader software that can convert text to speech, but what about those that surf the 'Net with images turned off? How do they see your site? Adhering to practical accessibility standards is smart as it provides benefits to both sighted and visually impaired users. A lack of accessibility standards caused by poor web page design and (think frames, nested tables, no image or link descriptions, etc.) prevents those using automated screen reading software to incorrectly interpret content, and in turn, the message you want to convey. For those surfing the web with images turned off or through text only browsers such as Lynx, providing accessible code of this type provides a richer user experience.

As such, below are some tips to help in creating accessible code:

Use Alt tags appropriately: Alt tags are html tags which provide alternate text to an image. Frequently misused, placing the alt attribute within the IMG tag will be read aloud by screen reader software and available to sighted users when they mouse-over an image. For users that have turned off graphics in their browsers, the ALT text will display instead of an image.

The LONGDESC attribute: A common misconception when it comes to Web accessibility is that alt tags can be used for providing extensive descriptions of images. when in actuality, the longdesc tag is best suited to this requirement. The "longdesc" should be the URL of the page where a longer description of an image can be found - also accessible via a "d" link.

The "d" link: Including a "d" link beside images that require extensive description (i.e. multimedia objects, video, animation) provides screen readers and their visually impaired users a link to a more detailed description on an alternate page. While not part of any standard, it is a recommendation of many Accessibility Advocacy Groups. The "d" link is intended to mirror the functionality of the LONGDESC attribute for non-visual browsers, and is a nice backwards compatibility feature.

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