When testing your site, you will have no choice but to test for accessibility. Tell that to the average web developer, and you can expect a response along the following lines: "Dude, it isn't a government project." Our response is, "Dude, that no longer matters." Accessibility is now jurisdictional, and you will have to make your work accessible to those with disabilities.
To put the magnitude of the issue into perspective, we would like you to seriously comprehend the scope of the issue by understanding the plight of the blind. Did you know, 70% of the U.S. population who are legally blind are either unemployed or underemployed? Of that group, approximately 1% have access to the data necessary to change their situation. That means you have essentially locked out 99% of the blind population in the U.S. from the web.
This is something governments haven't overlooked. In the United States, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (www.usdoj.gov/crt/508/508home.html) mandates that any work done for any government, from local to federal, must meet accessibility standards. In Canada, the rules are even tighter. In the European Union, anyone registering for a domain name must provide an accessible version of the site. Though governments are mandating acceptance of these guidelines, educators are now jumping on the accessibility juggernaut, and business will soon follow.
A good example of this is Macromedia. If you have ever dealt with their technical support area, you are quite familiar with how long it takes to resolve your product issue. Did you know that an accessibility issue is so serious with the corporation that they will deal with you personally within ten minutes or so? Did you also know that if the issue cannot be resolved, the policy of the corporation is to involve their accessibility expert, Bob Regan, almost before you hang up your phone?
To make it relatively easy for you to meet the requirements of the Section 508 statute, Dreamweaver MX 2004 has put the accessibility options in the application's Preferences. To set the Accessibility Options:
Open the Application Preferences, and in the Category listing, select Accessibility to open the Accessibility Preferences shown in Figure 19.13.
Select the Accessibility options to be added and click OK.
To see how these options are applied, open a new HTML page.
Select the Table tool from the Insert panel and click once on the page to open the Insert Table dialog box shown in Figure 19.14. The accessibility options are at the bottom of the dialog box. Enter a caption and select its location on the table from the choices in the pop-down menu.
There are no real rules when it comes to designing accessibility into your sites. Use your common sense, and if you really want an attitude-altering accessibility experience, watch a blind person surf the net using a Screen Reader. If you can afford it, get a Screen Reader and learn to use it. Just be prepared for some serious aggravation for the first 30 days as you get used to it. Before you toss the device in the trash, consider this: you just experienced the frustration that disabled visitors to your site will encounter.
Still, here are a few tips, in no particular order, that should help you:
When describing a picture, don't over-describe it.
Screen readers read from the top of the page to the bottom. Bob Regan at Macromedia has a great way of describing how a Screen Reader works. "It is like reading through a soda straw," he says. "There is absolutely no context."
If you have a repeating Flash animation on the stage, turn it off for the Screen Reader. These things are the verbal equivalent of a "recursive code loop." Bottom line? If you can't make it accessible, make it inaccessible.
In Flash, make all child objects inaccessible. They drive Screen Readers crazy.
Don't color-code information in an accessible site.
Ensure that there is sufficient color contrast between the foreground and background colors.
Avoid blinking objects. Any object blinking at a rate of 24 mHz could trigger photosensitive epilepsy.
When you test the site, approach the project as though the test was being done on a black and white television.
If you use keyboard shortcuts, the only keys available to a Screen Reader are 0 to 9. In the U.K., check to see which keys can be used.
In Flash, if you are using a movie clip as a button, use frame-based ActionScript to drive it and don't add a hit area to the button. A hit area will be picked up by a screen reader.
A quick way to identify accessibility issues in Dreamweaver MX 2004 is to select File, Check Page, Accessibility. Dreamweaver will scoot through the page and provide you with a detailed report in the Report panel. If you are unsure how to fix an identified problem, click the More Info button?the "i" in the Text balloon on the left side of the panel. This will open the UsableNet Accessibility Reference manual in the Reference panel, as shown in Figure 19.15.