University of Vermont

UVM Self-help Web Guide


Imagine having a disability that impedes your sight, hearing or mobility. The Internet has opened up a whole new world to the millions of people in this situation and promotes the widespread dissemination of all types of information. The Web crosses the boundaries of geography, economics, gender, age, race, language and ability. As Web developers produce materials for global dissemination, it is crucial to make accommodations for all Web users and avoid creating unnecessary roadblocks that impede access to Web sites.

Remember that many users of your site may have slow dial-up connections or older computers. Also note that many more people are now using new devices, including small screens on cellular phones, to access the Internet.

If you are a person with a disability, computers can read aloud text that appears on a screen. Computers provide a way for people with hearing and speech impairments to communicate with the nworld. And computers understand and implement voice commands for individuals with reduced manual dexterity.

But for everything a computer can do there are still many things it cannot do. A computer cannot accurately discern the subject of a graphics file, it cannot make intuitive judgements about what is important on the screen, and it cannot easily convert voice to text. Web design must take this into account, and recent judgements made concerning the Americans with Disabilities Act are, in some cases, making it a legal responsibility ( as per the U.S. government's Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act).

In reality, making a page accessible often benefits all users (not just those with slow connections and disabilities).

How you can make your Web content more accessible to all users

  • Reduce file sizes as much as possible in order to decrease download and rendering times.

  • Design with multiple screen resolutions in mind. Your audiences may be surfing your site not only using older computers but also television sets, handheld computers (PDAs) and cellular phones.

  • Give those with visual imparements the opportunity to change the font size. Follow our domentation on font resizing.

  • Use simple, clear language. Your site may be used by people from other countries with a limited command of English or those who read via computer translation. People with learning cognitive disabilities can be particularly frustrated by confusing navigation structures and poor user-interfaces.

  • Give images a text description, or alt-tag. Images that are purely decorative or are already described in the text should contain a blank alt tag (alt="").

    An example:

    <img src="photo1.jpg" alt="Students enjoy the Computer Department's annual barbecue" />

    In the above example, a visually impaired person will be able to better experience your Web site. Using special computer software called screen readers, the visually impaired person will hear a voice describing the image as:

    Students enjoy the Computer Department's annual barbecue.

    Remember to include alt-tags for images that perform certain functions, such as an icon that serves as a link to another page.

  • Scripts actions must be described and provide proper non-script alternatives when appropriate. For instance, if your navigational menus use JavaScript, your menus will not work in some browsers. To solve this, provide equivalent no-script content.

  • All audio and video content should contain captions, transcriptions and descriptive information.

  • Page layout should follow a logical order when read from the HTML source top to bottom.

  • Do not use color to convey meaning. Users that are color-blind or have limited vision may not be able to use such a site without an alternative, non-color method of conveying the information.

  • Navigational items should be clear and easy to select.

Other sources of information on Web accessbility

This document only scratches the surface of designing accessible websites. To find out more information consult the following sources:

Last modified April 09 2013 11:21 AM