Site Access

» Making Your Site More Accessible to More People

You can have the best-designed site on the planet, but if its design denies widespread access by potential visitors (and potential buyers) you’re going to lose business, as in $$$$$.

Accessibility begins with the use of open standards in the design of your site — standards adopted by the W3 Consortium to unify site programming to add both stability and durability to the Internet. By complying with these open standards, your site will be accessible to the widest range of I-net users employing the widest variety of means to track down your site. That means that a visitor using a 10-year-old modem and a 12-inch monitor will have access to your site just as easily (though more slowly) than the user who connects up on super fast Web TV. To learn more about the W3C open standards, see the article in the May, ’05 archives. It’ll give you all the details.

But, there’s more to accessibility than the use of open standards. The fact is, you don’t know who’s going to be visiting your site, so you have to be ready for just about anyone. It’s a question of ethics, good marketing and the law.

Check this out: Over in the UK, in 1999, the government passed a law called the Disability Discrimination Act which states that all purely informational sites should be accessible by people with disabilities. The country’s Disability Rights Commission (DRC) has recently undertaken investigations into how well sites have complied with the 1999 statute.

While no such law exists in the US to date, it’s coming. As well it should. Just as we provide accessibility features to public buildings for people with disabilities, the same considerations should be given to Internet users with disabilities. And while the current and up-coming laws focus on informational sites, as opposed to commercial sites, you can bet that accessibility compliance will be a factor within the commercial sector of the Net as well. It’s simply a matter of time.

So, as a site owner (or soon-to-be-site-owner) what does this mean to you? Well, it means you need to expand your view of your on-line enterprise to offer the widest accessibility, so that people with vision problems, mobility problems and other disabilities can use your site as effectively and as easily as anyone else.

For example, does your site offer text that can be adjusted for size. Today’s mouse comes with a scroll wheel. When a user presses the control key and scrolls the mouse wheel, text size changes (assuming the browser and web site both have this feature). To see how this feature works for low-vision users, visit the Microsoft site at Text can be made larger or smaller simply by using the scroll wheel on your mouse, making text readable to many more users.

Large links buttons, large type fonts and other adaptations can be built into the design of a new site, or updated on an existing site. But why go to the expense? Well, for one thing, it’s the right thing to do. You establish yourself as a ‘good Internet citizen’ by building an all-inclusive site — a site where everyone is welcomed. Would you vote down money to build a wheelchair ramp for your local library? Of course not. Building that ramp is the right thing to do, just as updating your site to make it more accessible is the ethically right thing to do.

From a purely business POV, increasing your site’s accessibility just makes good marketing sense. How many sales are you losing because elderly visitors can’t read your 8-point font product descriptions? How many potential visitors are you losing waiting for the 5-minute download of 10 Flash animations on their old Pentium 66 computers. Lots. About 50% of computer users upgrade every 3 years as newer, faster systems come to market. That leaves 50% of users still working with their 256 Colecos — and they’re not going to wait for that download. Oh, and you just lost another sale.

From a legal standpoint, a ‘right-thing-to-do’ standpoint and from a marketing standpoint, improving accessibility to your site just makes good sense.

So, to help you get started, here are some simple steps you can follow to improve the accessibility of your site:

  • Review the W3C open standards (May, ’05) and make sure your site is in compliance.
  • Carefully examine each page of your site for readability issues. Small type, unusual type fonts and even color scheme all have an impact on readability.
  • You don’t have to upgrade your entire site all at once. Start with the home page, move on to landing pages and work your way through each page over time. At least you’re moving in the right direction!
  • When adding pages, determine that they comply with W3C’s accessibility standards.
  • Beta test your site on a variety of systems, using different browsers, monitors and platforms.
  • Use HTML or XHTML for all new site development to ensure the broadest access across the user spectrum.
  • Use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) for faster downloads.

Also, check out the article in the July, ’05 archive on creating a user-friendly site for even more suggestions on how to make every visitor to your site feel welcomed.

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