Web accessibility

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Like many programmers, I learned HTML and other Web techniques mostly by trial and error. It’s often the best way.

Later, I became aware of emerging standards for “accessibility” on the Web. These describe techniques to ensure sites do not exclude particular users or browsers. The most interesting measures are those needed to accommodate assistive technologies, such as screen readers for users with limited vision, and different preferred interfaces, such as a keyboard instead of a mouse. Some of the problems are simpler: giant pages of high-resolution pictures are a good way to exclude dial-up users.

Scripting is a particular issue. Being a programmer, I went pretty far overboard with JavaScript, which doesn’t work well with screen readers. Moreover, thanks especially to Microsquish’s contempt for security measures (even those standardized in the language), the number of people who simply block scripts is probably growing. I try to use scripts to enhance the page, but to keep it readable without script support. I had some pages where text was hidden until the user clicked a link; these I have redesigned so the text is displayed by default, and only hidden if the scripts (both to hide it and to display it again) are supported.

I have used the background information, tutorials, and coding examples at the WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind) site, and I heartily recommend it. I’ve picked up other suggestions from people who use assistive technology.

The page on Hiding addresses deals with one of the most difficult problems in accessibility: fighting off spammers while keeping your email links useful to everyone else.