Part of the web design process is making sure sites are accessibile to users with disabilities. For example, a user with vision impairment may access websites via a screen reader application, while blind users will use a refreshable Braille device. Mobile devices such as the iPhone and Android can provide text-to-speech and speech recognition functions. By considering accessibility from the start of the design process it's possible to create a website which supports these kinds of assistive technology.
The issue of accessibility affects all aspects of website design. The following list outlines a few areas of consideration:
- Structuring pages so users don't have to scroll past long lists of links to reach relevant content.
- Ensuring pages still function when interactive elements are turned off or not supported.
- Providing text alternatives for non-text elements on the page, e.g. images, videos and audio.
- Avoiding unnecessary use of images.
- Providing keyboard shortcuts for important page links.
In the UK the Disability Discrimination Act means website owners have a legal duty to take reasonable steps to ensure access for disabled users. While some of the legal implications are still unclear, it's obvious that site owners are under increasing scrutiny. Organisations such as the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) have carried out studies of commercial websites and found that most are in breach of regulations. As a result some companies have been forced to update their websites to avoid legal action.