VSJ – June 2004 – Work in Progress

Council member John Ellis, FIAP introduced, in March’s VSJ, some ideas about Web accessibility. Since then, in May, you’ll have seen Paul Lynham’s report on the presentation by Julie Howell from the RNIB to the Annual Symposium. Here, John takes things a stage further.
In my last article on making Web sites more accessible to those with visual impairments, we made some basic changes to the Web page, removing frames where possible or, at least, giving them meaningful titles. In addition, we added basic ALT tags to the images on our pages. We also added the Style Sheet to remove the basics of the Web page, font styles, sizes and colours etc. This allows people to then set local style sheets if they wish to override our defaults, perhaps to change the font size or colours to improve visibility. As Julie Howell said, it’s flexibility that counts – different conditions call for different strategies. We tend to assume that a visually impaired person will want a big font. But someone with glaucoma often needs a very small font because his or her visual field is small.
This may well reduce your Web page’s size, by removing the repetition of text size and font setting, as is often done by packages like FrontPage. Recently I had to work with a table of values on a Web page, generated by an ASP. Because the page had some 200 rows of figures with 5 columns of data, there was a lot of repetition in terms of the display characteristics. The page took nearly 60K bytes. Not the biggest page on the planet, but I thought it could be better and access improved.
By adding the following into the table structure:
and appending corresponding entries in my style sheet, I reduced the size of the page to 19K bytes.
So we’re telling the table that each column has a class in the style sheet. In this case I had a title to the left, followed by sets of figures in the alternate columns, and the last four columns alternated their colour for effect. The result of then removing the font sizes, colours and font style reduced the page to a third of its original size. That reduces download time on a 56Kb modem (assuming a 46Kb connection) from around 13 to 4 seconds.
We improved the customer’s experience in viewing the page, improved access to those who need more flexible viewing and, as a bonus, our bandwidth is not being eaten up. This page is heavily viewed so a saving is achievable as the pipe bandwidth can remain ‘as is’ and not be upgraded.
Also, you can give titles to columns and rows to explain what they represent. The specialised browsers used by blind people are designed to interpret them.
Next time I’ll focus on those with motor disabilities and show how Web sites can be improved to give them better access.
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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