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Chapter 1. Introduction > Overview of Maximum Accessibility

Overview of Maximum Accessibility

Why Are So Many Sites Inaccessible?

We believe there are two main reasons why so many Web sites are inaccessible. First, most Web developers don’t have disabilities themselves, and they may not know anyone who has a disability (or maybe they do but don’t realize it). So they may not fully understand how their design decisions and implementation techniques affect people with disabilities. Second, even if Web developers are aware of the problem and committed to fixing it, they may not know how to go about it. We hear the same questions again and again: Where should we start? What do we do?

We’ve written this book to answer those questions. We’ll try to tackle both sides of the accessibility challenge, to help readers understand why accessibility is so important and what to do about it. We’ve divided the book into two sections.

Section 1: Accessibility and Why It Matters

Section 1 lays out the multiple dimensions of accessibility. We’ll talk about accessibility and disability in law and international policy. We’ll talk about the role of community organizations in raising awareness and providing efficient, cost-effective training to prepare people with disabilities for meaningful participation in the life and work of our society, and we’ll talk about the contributions that people with disabilities have made. We’ll provide the information you need to build the business case for integrating accessibility into your organization’s Web development policies and practices.

User Experience Narratives. Our user experience chapters (Chapters 2,5, 7, and 8) offer a unique perspective on accessibility. We’ve provided detailed narratives about the accessibility barriers we encountered when we visited actual Web sites. You can do more than look at screen shots in these chapters—you can read verbatim transcripts of what people who use screen readers hear on these same pages. We’ll also go “behind the scenes” to look at the source code, in order to learn about the HTML that produced the experiences we’re describing. This will be new to some readers. The powerful Web-authoring tools now on the market allow Web developers to create visually rich, highly in-teractive sites without writing a single line of HTML code. But because most authoring tools don’t automatically support accessible content— as they would if they conformed to the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (ATAG), published by the WAI in February 2000—there will be times when it’s necessary to edit HTML source code in order to meet your accessibility goals. In the user experience chapters, you’ll have a chance to see what incorrect code looks like. In these chapters, we’ll also talk about how the accessibility guidelines and standards apply to the sites we visit, so you’ll be able to understand more clearly what to do in your own work—and what to avoid.

Another unique feature of our user experience narratives: they’re written to be accessible to people who can’t see the screen shots. We’ve tried to provide enough descriptive detail so that readers who are blind or visually impaired still get a good sense of what’s happening on the Web pages we discuss.

The sites we visit aren’t obscure ones. They’re large sites for the most part, representing large, well-known organizations that have devoted substantial resources to their Web presence—organizations with the means to make their sites accessible if they choose to do so. The problems we describe are typical of the problems people with disabilities encounter on the Web every day. The problems are typical in two ways: (1) they cause real frustration, and (2) most of them could easily have been avoided if the developers had known what to do. That brings us to Section 2.

Section 2: Strategies and Techniques for Maximum Accessibility

In Section 2 we’ll tell you about things you can do to create a more accessible Web experience for your users. We’ll tell you about the tools and resources that are available to you, and we’ll show you specific techniques that enhance accessibility. You’ll learn how to write effective text equivalents for everything from small images to complex image maps, charts, and graphs—even works of art. You’ll learn how to create Web-based forms that are as accessible to people using screen readers and talking browsers as they are to people who can point and click, and how to design tables so that the data make sense whether you’re looking at the page or listening to it. We’ll explain how to use Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat to create simple PDF documents that are accessible to people using screen readers. You’ll learn how multimedia can be an important tool for enhancing accessibility. You’ll also learn what to do about scripts, applets, and plug-ins to ensure that all your users can take advantage of your site’s interactivity. We’ll provide advice for developers of sites that depend heavily on scripting languages to generate complex pages on demand. And we’ll show you how to use Cascading Style Sheets to bring out the structural elements of your designs while enhancing their readability and visual appeal.

In each case, you’ll learn how accessibility guidelines and standards apply to different situations—and how you can turn those guidelines and standards into resources for creative problem solving.

Beyond the Standards, Beyond the Tools: The Human Element

Something to remember as you use the resources in this book is that, while we will introduce you to some great tools and techniques that will help you make your work more accessible, and even the means to check the accessibility of that work, in the end it all comes down to people, the human element that can’t be overlooked. People with dis-abilities who use the Web can be your best source of accessibility testing—as well as loyal customers and great employees. We hope you will learn to incorporate their experiences as you test the usability of your work.

Human review can help ensure clarity of language and ease of navigation. Invite people with disabilities to review your documents. Expert and novice users with disabilities can provide valuable feedback about the barriers they encounter and the things that work well for them. That feedback will help you improve your site for all users. Hearing and seeing and feeling your Web site through the ears and eyes and hands of people with disabilities can be a surprising and so-bering experience—it gives new meaning to the tired old cliché that you can’t judge a book by looking at the cover, as we’ll see in Chapter 2 when we visit a well-known e-commerce site. But the fact that it can be so difficult to predict what a site will sound like from the way it looks is exactly why it’s so important to get input from people who have disabilities.

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