Understanding Web Accessibility



Shawn Lawton Henry leads worldwide education and outreach promoting web accessibility for people with disabilities at the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). The WAI works with several usability experts like Henry to make everyone’s experience better on the web. Henry’s book “Understanding Web Accessibility” is very useful to web publishers. Web Accessibility is according to Henry basically 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.


The Alt Text – Alternate Text

The alt text is very accommodating to people with disabilities and those without. People with disabilities are sometimes unable to view images if they are blind. The alt text will display an alternate text describing the description of the image. For example, if there is a cat image, a description saying black cat or whatever color will pop up instead of an image and people with disabilities will be able to view it or hear it depending on their disabilities. It is also useful for people without disabilities. If people with devices that don’t load images quickly or at all surf the web, the alternate text will be useful because it will pop up to describe the image.

Henry also goes on to expand on the other uses of usability techniques such as audio captions. She states “Captions are also beneficial for people in a noisy environment who cannot hear audio, as well as for people in a very quiet environment where it is not appropriate to play audio.” She also mentions device independence and clear and consistent design and navigation. Device independence is such that people who can’t use the mouse due to certain disabilities or people who don’t have a mouse available due to their device type can still use the web successfully.

She also asserts that usability is very important especially to certain caches of people. People who are older, people with low literacy, people not fluent in the Language, people with low-bandwidth connections and older technologies and new web users.

Interdependent Components of Web Accessibility

Many things need to come together for the web to be completely accessible to everyone. Many people rely on the web to make their world go round. The accessibility of the web not only rests on the author of the webpage, there are many shoulders it rests upon. Web tools are interdependent. The components of the web are divided into the human and the technical. According to Henry, the technical side includes;

Authoring tools which refers to any software or service that developers use to produce, create, or modify web content.

 Web content which generally refers to the information in a web page or web application, including text, images, forms, sounds, and such, as well as the markup and code that defines the structure, presentation, and interaction.

Technical specifications refers to Extensible Hypertext Markup Language (XHTML), Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and such. They are also called web technologies and markup languages.

Evaluation tools: Software programs or online services that help determine if a web page meets accessibility guidelines or standards. See the “Myth: Evaluation Tools Can Determine Accessibility and Conformance” section later in this chapter for more about evaluation tools.

User agents: Web browsers, media players, assistive technologies, and other software that people use to access and interact with web content.

Assistive technologies: Software and hardware that people with disabilities use to improve interaction with the Web. Examples include screen readers that read aloud web pages for people who cannot see or read text, and voice-input software and switches for people who cannot use a keyboard or mouse. An official definition is: Any item, piece of equipment, product, system or software, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.

The human side includes;

Tool developers: The people and organizations who develop user agents, assistive technologies, authoring tools, and evaluation tools.

Users: People using the Web, sometimes called website visitors.

Content developers: The people and organizations who design, code, write, edit, update, and otherwise create web content. This includes web programmers, graphic designers, technical writers, project managers, blog commenters, wiki contributors, secretaries who edit their organization’s website, and others.

Approaches to Web Accessibility

There are several ways to improve web accessibility;

    1. Involve people with disabilities so that they can provide insight.
    2. Understanding the Issues. A very good method of doing this is to follow the guidelines listed on the website.

Henry also focuses on the myths surrounding accessibility and the relationship between accessibility and usability.


Henry is very proficient and obviously knowledgeable about web accessibility. She has followed the concepts herself by having alternate text for her website. She breaks down the information smoothly. It is very clear but it is obvious that her intended audience are students who are taking web publishing classes. She gives examples that would not be ordinarily accessible to someone who has never taking a web publishing class. She mentions the tools that help the web work and references HTML. This is something i would not have understood before taking this class, so it is easy to note that she has a specific audience. She also frequently references web designers, after all, they are the ones who can make the web accessible to all. Take a look at this website. It is a very fascinating website that is not very accessible to most people. It can’t be enlarged. This whole screen looks like this;

It’s a book that has pictures, handwriting, videos etc. Very Cool. But, it doesn’t zoom. It is tiny and hard to read for anyone. This is dissuading to someone who would like to read it.

Web accessibility is very important. If the web is not accessible, people won’t enjoy it and so won’t visit.


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