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Accessibility Beyond the Screen Reader

, Friday, February 13th, 2009

Accessibility is always in the front of our minds when we embark on a Web project. But as we start to consider our features, accessibility starts to slip by the way side. “As long as a screen reader can read it, we’ll be fine, right?” Not really.

Disability does not equal blind. “Works in a screen reader” does not equal “accessible,” even for users of screen readers. Designing for a screen reader will help you hit many accessibility points, but you won’t hit them all.

Limited Mobility . Could you use your web site without a mouse? Without a keyboard? If not, folks with limited mobility may not be able to browse your site. There are some high-tech options out there for those with limited mobility. But not everyone has them.

Low Vision . Low vision is not the same as non-sighted. With low vision, you see, but not well. Put a 10 pixel font with low-contrasting foreground and background colors in your graphics-based navigation, with proper alt tags, and your screen reader would be happy. But someone with low vision wouldn’t.

Color Blindness . We’ve come a long way from 256 web-safe colors. But those millions of colors are not available to everyone. Keys and legends can be frustrating. Imagine looking at a map and not being able to know the difference between a river and a county line. Of all the disabilities, this hits a large number – as many as 8% of all males have some sort of color blindness.

Seizure Disorders . It may sound strange that your site could be seizure-inducing, but it’s true. If your graphics flash like a strobe light, then your monitor is a strobe light. That’s not just annoying, but potentially dangerous.

Learning Disabilities . We may have all heard of ADD and dyslexia, but there are dozens more disabilities that could hinder web-browsing ability. They primarily affect memory and comprehension. Does your web site accommodate those who have memory issues? Is your content structured for maximum comprehension? Or do you require your users to do math. Many sites now use math problems as an “accessible” CAPTCHA . Accessible to screen readers, maybe, but not accessible to someone with dyscalculia .

The numbers are all over the place and never entirely accurate on what percentage of the population have these varying disorders. It’s 1% here, 3% there. But add them all up, and the numbers get pretty big. So when you keep accessibility in mind for your web site, make sure it’s accessible for all.

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