Access to the Internet is an increasingly important element of our lives. For many people with disabilities (whether they are visual, hearing, speech, physical or cognitive/neurological), access to the vast amount of information and for example, the diverse online communities that the Internet has to offer, can profoundly improve their lives.
Additionally, there are people who would benefit from access to Internet-based information but are hindered by factors such as incompatible or low-grade technology, language incomprehension, and so on.
We feel it is important to consider the following issues:
The majority of users may be accessing this website from low-grade machines at work or in public facilities. These groups include people with a range of disabilities (visual, hearing, speech, physical or cognitive/neurological) just like any other sector of society.
Under the terms of the Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) UK service providers must make 'reasonable adjustments' to their services – including web sites – to make them accessible: otherwise they could be found to be unlawful.
Over the last few years we have seen many advances in the tags and attributes available to developers to ensure that accessibility tools such as screen readers etc. can easily interpret on-screen information. We use these tags by default.
However, in brief our approach is as follows:
All images should use alternative text attributes.
Blank or non-informative images should have the alt text set to nothing. When a screen reader comes across an empty alt tag, it will ignore the image. If you do not use an empty alt text tag, some screen readers will attempt to read the URL of the image source. If the image is being used as a link, the alt text tag should reflect the purpose of the link – usually its destination. Describing visual aspects of the graphic is usually not necessary in an alt text tag.
XHTML specifies another attribute for describing graphics that convey information visually – the ‘longdescr’ attribute. The ‘longdescr’ attribute is the URL of an alternative source document that contains a long description of the image. This is useful for providing long descriptions of visual components such as charts or graphs that cannot be read accurately by a screen reader.
Another important development component is Cascading Style Sheets. These allow the developer to independently format the style and basic elements of a site. We use relative font sizes so that fonts can be re-sized if necessary. We also apply classes within the formatting tags so that some understanding of page layout is maintained if style sheets are disabled.
Downloading PDF documents
To read PDF documents with a screen reader please link to the Access Adobe website which provides useful tools and resources. Adobe also has a free online conversion tool for PDFs.
Adobe Reader accessibility
The standard support browser versions are:
Internet Explorer 6.0+
To learn more about web accessibility visit the RNIB Web Access Centre.
To obtain a copy of the screen reader JAWS visit the Freedom Scientific website.