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Tennessee, USA
 
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Sydney, Australia

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Virginia, USA

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Texas, USA


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Is Your Website Accessible for
the Visually Impaired?

Don't Unwittingly Exclude Visitors to Your Site.
 
Paul Smithson - 22nd December 2008
   
paul smithson The Internet can be a difficult place to navigate if you’re visually impaired and it has to be said that far too many webmasters don’t make much effort to ensure that browsing their site is as easy as it could be for visually impaired visitors. Fortunately, making your site more accessible isn’t all that difficult or time-consuming.

One of the most basic and yet important things you can do to improve your site’s accessibility is to name links properly. Naming a link “click here” may work fine for sighted people, but it’s not going to make much sense to someone who is visually impaired. 

A link should be descriptive, such as “Click here to download 1,001 cat food recipes.”  This also allows you to work keywords into your link text, which has a knock-on benefit for search engine optimization.

The next major thing you can do to improve your site’s accessibility is to include alt text for every image on your site.  If you have a photo of a dress your site is selling don’t have alt text that says picture01.jpg as that means absolutely nothing to someone who is visually impaired. Instead use something along the lines of “Image of blue sun-dress with white floral print.” 

This is also another important SEO technique, so it’s something you should be doing anyway.  Include keywords when possible, but make sure you describe the image as thoroughly as possible for your visually impaired users at the same time. 

This is especially important if your image needs to be clicked.  If you have a photo of a dress, and they can click the photo to order it, you should make the alt text something along the lines of “Click here to order the blue sun-dress with white floral print.” This is incredibly important. Often webmasters will use graphical order buttons and not realize that if the ALT text says ‘Image001.jpg’ any visually impaired users won’t have a clue that they need to click on that image to order.

Another important technique for making your site accessible to visually impaired users is to use relative font sizes, instead of using absolute font sizes. Although this may make your site look a little odd at times, it will go a long way toward making your site accessible to the visually impaired.  If a user who can’t see well visits your site, they can change the font size through their browser so they can see the words better. 

Don’t count on things like color, bold, and symbols to explain things.  For example, if you have a form on your site and certain fields are required, be sure to put “(required)” beside the fields rather than making the text red, or putting an asterisk beside the field.  The visually impaired user won’t be able to see these things, so it’s important to actually use text to prompt them for required fields.

If your site uses a lot of Flash or image maps, you could go that extra step and make a special page devoted to the visually impaired.  You should offer a clear link to this version, so it will be easy to find. 

Since Flash is often difficult to navigate for the visually impaired, it’s very important to offer a non-Flash version of your site.  Also, many visitors simply don’t like Flash-based websites.  These visitors, whether visually impaired or not, will appreciate having an alternate version of your site. 

Finally, there are also validators available that can check your site for accessibility. You can run your site through one of these to ensure compliance with accessibility standards. XSitePro has this feature built into the “Page Analysis” section so that you can check each of your pages against best-practice and make the changes necessary to make sure that the page meets the needs of visually impaired users.

At the moment making your site accessible to visually impaired users is optional in many countries, but it is already a legal requirement in others and it is likely to become increasingly important to comply with approved standards as the Internet becomes an essential part of everyday communications, and rightly so in my opinion. Just because someone is visually impaired shouldn’t mean they are denied access to information. And by making some of the tweaks mentioned above can make all the difference and make your site accessible to a whole new audience.

About Paul Smithson - Paul Smithson is the founder of Intellimon and the driving force behind the best-selling XSitePro web site development tool. Since graduating in Business Strategy and Direct Marketing from two of Europe’s leading business schools, Paul has set up five multi-million dollar companies, one of which is now owned by the BBC. His areas of expertise include business strategy, e-commerce, on-line and off-line marketing, software development, and maximizing the potential of on-line businesses.


For more information about this, and many other Internet Marketing-related topics, visit Paul Smithson's site, www.xsitepro.com.

Source: http://www.xsitepro.com/is-your-website-accessible-for-the-visually-impaired.html


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