Just as many people, businesses, and congregations work to make their physical facilities accessible to people with disabilities, they also strive to make their on-line presence accessible. We believe that all church facilities should be accessible and inclusive so that everyone can receive the information and inspiration that our congregations strive to provide.
And just as physical accessibility takes some care, and reaches beyond the obvious, so does on-line accessibility. In both, a small mistake in one area can create a vast amount of difficulty all around. Persons with visual impairments cannot access many sites because they use screen readers to hear, rather than see, the site. People who are Deaf cannot hear sound clips. And those with slower connections or old browsers are often unable to view some new features or elaborate graphics.
One way to approach accessibility is to offer one version of the site that is accessible. Another, less preferred method, is to offer multiple versions of a page. One problem with this approach is that alternate versions are often not updated when the primary one is updated. It's also a lot of extra work, since most accessibility features can be incorporated into any page.
Basic standards for accessibility can be found at the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). This site is frequently updated, and readers can subscribe to an RSS feed to be notified of updates.
One problem with accessibility is that it isn't always mentioned in publications and educational materials, which often focus on the latest design, how to incorporate more "bells and whistles," or boosting audience and sales numbers. So it will take some ongoing thought, careful questions, and — as we often advocate — practical tests with affected users to maintain inclusive practices.
When designers do think about accessibility, they often think of adding a text description where there are pictures. But accessibility for all goes far beyond that. Not everyone can use a mouse, or even a keyboard. Some people, especially those with disabilities, are limited to dial-up connections. These relatively slow connections cause problems when images are too large, and the older browsers (and computers) that some use will choke on complex instructions. Too often, in the name of design, type that is too small for some to read is used, along with colors that some people cannot distinguish.
Here is a preliminary list of accessible features (it will continue to be expanded, and you can suggest additional points on our contact page):
- tag all photos and other images with an alternate text for blind users or those who do not have a fast connection — this is especially important for headers, borders, and the like;
- forms are often a problem; suggestions include to provide a downloadable word processing file (include contact information on it) and "captchas," boxes that must be filled in with a randomly-generated character string to show that a human, not a robot, is filling in the form;
- do not use drop-down menus; people with hand motion impairments cannot choose the item they want, and many screen readers do not read them well — text or tagged images allow everyone to click on them
- likewise, frames and some tables do not work well with screen readers; older browsers often cannot handle frames;
- use contrasting colors; put dark text on a light background and do not use colors other than white on a dark background;
- background patterns and wallpaper may interfere with reading even for people with good vision;
- do not hard code factors such as width and type size; use percentages and relative sizes — people with vision impairments may increase the size on screen; furthermore, those who have older computers often have smaller screens and scrolling left to right is a nuisance (all the more so if they have motion impairments)
- use HTML when possible; if you provide downloadable forms or documents, use tagged PDFs or provide a word processor format such as RTF or plain text.
Some good websites and other sources that address accessibility concerns are:
- Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (29 USC 794d), the primary Federal standard for accessibility, many entities that do business with the government are required to meet its provisions
- Universal Usability a Universal Design approach to web usability
- Web Accessibility page from American Foundation for the Blind
- Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool (WAVE), checks on-line or uploaded pages and displays access features
- My Web My Way, a guide to using and incorporating accessibility features from the BBC.
- Accessible Web Site Guidelines from University of Wisconsin
- The Art of Web Accessibility: Usability Principles, Accessibility Style (Steve Grobschmidt)
- Advancing Accessibility for the Web — Google Developers Conference 2012
- WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind)
- Android Accessibility — Google Developers Conference 2012
You might want to read our page that explains our accessibility policy.
Some of the material on this page was originally developed by GBGM as "Making Your Web Pages Accessible."
Tim Vermande, November 2012