Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Is There a Handicap Parking Space in front of Your Virtual Store?

Today, I went to website and saw an award-winning advertisement that really hit me. It was all about how a handicapped person sees the world. It recast the minority as the majority. It imagined what the world would be like, for example, if almost all people were in wheelchairs, and people standing upright were out of the ordinary. To view the ad, go to

Since I have a child that is probably going to live most of his life in a wheelchair, this ad appealed to me very strongly.

It made me think about our websites. What are we doing to help those that are impaired in some way access our sites? Isn’t their money as green as anyone else’s? Their credit card numbers work the same as mine, don’t they? We want them to be able to buy from us, too, just like everyone else, right?

In some cases, a web business’ prime target audience (for example, seniors) could have a large percentage that have some level of disability. Designing for adaptability would be a necessity for such a site.

Now, it’s also true that in a lot of website design systems and templates we don’t always have as much control over a site as we might like. One can also go so far to the other extreme that a site might well be very accessible to a handicapped person, and lose all of it’s enticement to the rest of the world. The idea is to compromise. To do a few things and keep some simple guidelines in mind so as to make your site MORE accessible than before.

  1. Realize what assistive technology people are going to be using to experience your site. Someone who is visually impaired, for example, might have a big monitor and be using an enlarged font size to view your site. Or, they might be fully blind and be using a text-to-speech conversion software. Someone with mobility issues, like my son, might be using some specially designed pointer technology, like an adaptive mouse or track-ball instead of a standard mouse and keyboard.
  2. Many states and cities have adaptive technology centers that help the disabled to interface with technology. lists some of these state centers. These centers will often have adaptive technology experts who could give some great advice on what sort of changes could be made to a site to make it more effective.
  3. When preparing text for your website, take special care for the formatting. The text color should contrast sharply with the background. Pay close attention to the font style and sizes. Avoid sharp contrasts in fonts and both have some great advice in this area.
  4. When writing the text of your site, “front-load” the paragraphs with the most vital information so when the visitor listens to the site in a text-to-speech (T2S) conversion program, they will be better able to direct their navigation of the text.
  5. Avoid “click here” text links. Instead, make the clickable text descriptive of where the link will take the visitor. This will make much more sense in when read aloud by a T2S converter.
  6. When installing a graphic, write a sentence describing the picture in the alt text area of the img tag. When the page is being scanned by a T2S converter, this will be read in the place of the picture, and the visitor will understand what the picture is about. Bonus hint: If you use search terms in this descriptive sentence, it can also boost your ranking with some search engines!
  7. Most sites rely on good pictures to capture a visitor’s attention. But someone who is visually impaired can’t see the pictures, at least not as clearly. So, make your product descriptions very descriptive.
  8. Numbered lists are easier for T2S conversion than bulleted lists.
  9. When laying out your page, plan for more whitespace and less clutter. Not only is that easier for a visually-impaired viewer, but this will also make it easier for someone with fine-motor issues (like moving a mouse pointer) to click on links and navigate.

These are simple things that can be done a bit at a time to make a site more available and effective for more people.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:28 PM

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