VSJ – July 2004 – Work in Progress

Council member John Ellis, FIAP continues his series of short articles on making Web sites accessible to those with disabilities. We’d like to emphasise that these are much more about raising members’ awareness of their responsibilities, not least under the Disability Discrimination Act, than they are about code as such.
In my previous articles I have covered how, using properly designed Web sites with style sheets, visually impaired people can access our Web sites more easily by allowing them to override our wonderful colourful creations. At the same time we have cut down our bandwidth requirements (at least until all those – now enabled – people access the site) and speeded up our Web pages, all for just a little work.
There’s a tendency to equate ‘disability’ with ‘visual impairment’ in the context of Web sites. But there are many others. For example, HESA (the Higher Education Statistics Agency) reports that the most common disability among university students is dyslexia. In this article I am going to cover a separate group of people, those with mobility issues. Someone with Parkinson’s Disease or Multiple Sclerosis, for example, may not be able to use a mouse easily. He or she may, however, find it relatively straightforward to depress keys on the keyboard. This will be the point of this note.
Let’s consider a simple Web site with a few links on a Menu:
What We Do
Contact Us
Each link will normally be selected via a hyperlink that a mouse can access easily. We may also have set things up so that the user can scroll through the options using the TAB key. However, we can select each link directly from the keyboard by editing into the four HREF links:
accesskey = “H”
accesskey = “W”
accesskey = “T”
accesskey = “C”
Now Alt-H will highlight ‘Home’ and ENTER will select it. Alt-W will do the same for ‘What We Do’ and so on.
Certain types of control will select first, e.g. Text Boxes, while Buttons will automatically Post, if that is the function, without the ENTER key having been pressed. Careful choice of keys is important. Be logical and beware – they will override the Application Menu Bar shortcuts! You might like to find a way of highlighting shortcut keys rather than (or in addition to) giving instructions. You could use the application standards of underlining the shortcut character, giving an explanatory message against each menu item, or highlighting the required character in a contracting colour. Either way you will have helped a great number of people who may access your site and possibly made it quicker to navigate for those, more able-bodied, who nevertheless have trouble using a mouse.
More (much more!) on these areas is available in the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (W3C Working Draft 11 March 2004) at www.w3.org/TR/2004/WD-WCAG20-20040311/ and I’d welcome your comments and suggestions for further wrinkles and improvements.
You can contact John at john.ellis@wellis-technology.co.uk.
[Interesting project or development? Let us know at eo@iap.org.uk!]

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