IT Helpdesk: Improving accessibility

There are several resources for improving your site for disabled users, says Anne Stafford

Q: How can we find out whether our website is accessible to all users? And what can we do if it isn't?

A: For most small third sector organisations, it's enough of a challenge to create and maintain an up-to-date website, even without considering the possibility that they might inadvertently have excluded people with disabilities from accessing the content. If, however, you have reservations about your charity in this respect, you are not alone.

Choose any website at random and the chances are it will present significant barriers to accessibility. Images might be missing the labels that are so vital for blind users. Text might be 'hard-coded', preventing any modification of font size or style for greater readability. Navigation might be restricted exclusively to those using a mouse. The pitfalls are numerous.

Accessible websites should have several features. Ideally, they need to have an uncluttered and consistent layout with simple language, and the colour scheme, text size and screen resolution should be easy to change.

You should also look at the main technologies that help users with disabilities, such as screen reading and voice-recognition software, and ensure your website is compatible with them. In addition, look at the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. Your website should conform with these. If in doubt, try the free automated assessment offered by our parent organisation, AbilityNet. It's available at www.abilitynet.org.uk/freeaccessscan.

- Anne Stafford is programme manager at iT4Communities. Send questions to questions@it4communities.org.uk

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