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Web accessibility in web design

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Web accessibility is the concern of access to online services and content not only for people with disabilities and senior citizens, but also more generally for all users who do not have the comfort offered by a desktop located in a quiet room. Indeed, its application also relates to the non-disabled users placed in less comfortable situations such as with a mobile phone, tablet … or placed in special situations of noise, display size, etc. Defined by the technical standards established by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), it requires treatment throughout the life cycle of a website, for all its players through methods of applications, business standards and a monitoring approach. Although a component and a lever to improve their overall quality, the actual degree of accessibility of websites is still low.

Field of accessibility

Web accessibility is defined by the WAI as a component of e-accessibility:

“Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web. More specifically, Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web. Web accessibility also benefits others, including older people with changing abilities due to aging.”

It is a universal law, according to Article 9 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities adopted in 2006 by the United Nations

“To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas. These measures, which shall include the identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility, shall apply to, inter alia […] Information, communications and other services, including electronic services and emergency services […] States Parties shall also take appropriate measures to […] Promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet.”

User settings

Braille display equipped with an onboard computer (Example of assistive technology: a Braille display equipped with an onboard computer, operating independently, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plage-braille-avec-touches-speciales.jpg)

line of Braille characters used with a computer (This other braille offering only line of Braille characters is used with a computer that will reproduce the display, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plage-braille-Alva.jpg)

Even in this closely related disability sense, accessibility is a very wide variety of cases. This is illustrated in effect:

  • the diversity of disabilities that may affect the ability to access content or an online service. These can be visual (blindness, blurred vision, daltonism, achromatopsia), hearing (partial or total deafness), motor, cognitive or neurological disabilities, or related to aging;
  • the variety of input and output devices, and the assistive technologies: alternative keyboards and switches, braille devices, screen readers (JAWS, Window-Eyes, SRCore for Gnopernicus), voice synthesis tools (for Narrator Windows 2000), screen magnifiers and other expansion devices, text browsers, voice interaction devices, accessibility settings for standard web browsers, etc.

One of the challenges of Web accessibility approach is to extract specific constraints on the multi-user environments, thereby achieving a sufficient level of abstraction to be able to develop normative tools and guidelines used by industry (Web browser manufacturers, content creators, etc.).

Induced effects of content accessibility

Beyond the benefits achieved for disabled users, web accessibility benefits more widely to all users and actors, especially regarding the usability, control of content production, investment returns and image.

The accessibility of content also reflects in part the problem of access to mobile and Mobile Web Best Practices 1.0 of W3C are partly derived from web content accessibility standards. But the mobile Web development rise in turn new uses and technological innovations that represent new challenges for accessibility.

Content accessibility or universal accessibility?

Some Web accessibility players extend their scope beyond the issue of disability, to all users contexts, drawing in particular the objective of the “Web for all” given to W3C by Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web:

“The Web is fundamentally designed to work for all people, whatever their hardware, software, language, culture, location, or physical or mental ability. When the Web meets this goal, it is accessible to people with a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive ability.”

The content accessibility remains at the points of normative and operational view, a specific aspect of this ambition, and does not merge more with the concept of quality Web which is a component. Depending on the technical solutions and state of the art, compromises may be necessary between investing in optimizing accessibility or other qualitative aspects such as content themselves, innovation, SEO, usability and interoperability.

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