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Teaching Notes for Chapter 9

Download the end-of-chapter questions. (Zipped plain text files, UTF-8 encoded.)

This chapter should be considered an essential part of any Web Design or Web Development course; there is no material in the chapter that can be omitted.

The text includes several reasons why accessibility should be a major concern in the design of any Web site. There is another compelling reason for studying it: thinking about accessibility is thinking about design. Having to consider different ways in which a site might be accessed forces students to think more carefully about the roles of structure, appearance and functionality. This, more than anything, is why accessibility is good for everyone. (Although, as we point out in the book, almost everyone is liable to suffer from some condition that can make accessing the Web difficult at some time in their lives, so accessibility is good for everyone in that sense, too.) Accessibility considerations force design thinking to a higher level and make designers more conscious of what they are doing, and how it works.

The original incentive for accessibility does, however, come from consideration of the needs of people with disabilities, and most of the published guidelines are expressed in terms of those needs. When talking to a group of a students with no experience of accessibility problems, it may be best to concentrate on a view of accessibility as a tighter discipline for how sites ought to be made better for everybody by improving usability.

Accessibility is too often presented as being solely concerned with the needs of blind people, with the implication that visual design is irrelevant to accessibility. This widespread misconception is quite false. As we show in the chapter, accessibility is concerned with a wide range of conditions, many affecting sighted people. In fact, the majority of people with accessibility problems can see, at least to some extent, so it is certainly not the case that visual designers need not bother about accessibility. Visual design can play an important role in accessibility. Clear visual design of functional elements and good layout prevent unnecessary movements, scrolling, etc. for people with physical disabilities or injuries such as RSI. A fine eye for colour and contrast can help a designer make a page easier to read for people with poor eyesight. Good visual design and use of images can make a site more easily understood by people with dyslexia, cognitive difficulties, and so on.

Accessibility is a concern of all Web designers, no matter what their speciality.

Guidelines

Since we are writing for an international audience, we have concentrated on the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. In the USA, Section 508 is more immediately relevant, because of its legal standing, but concentrating on Section 508 is rather parochial in the context of the global Web.

We mention WCAG2.0 briefly in the text. The comment period on the Working Draft closed on 22nd June 2006; a Candidate Recommendation has to be produced, which is then subject to further stages of approval before a final Recommendation can be published, so WCAG1.0 is not going to be superseded in the immediate future. There have been some vociferous criticisms of the WCAG2.0 document and the approach to accessibility that it embodies, but it is not clear whether any of this criticism will affect the form of the final Recommendation. If it is ignored, it seems highly likely that WCAG2.0 will never be accepted by the accessibility community or by Web designers generally. We recommend not giving much prominence to the new guidelines, therefore, until they have achieved their final form and it is apparent how much influence they will have.