Disability Ministries Committee of the United Methodist Church

website accessibility

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. There are rules and procedures and coding, but accessibility is an art that requires imagination, understanding, and empathy to make it work well. One needs to anticipate problems and look a variety of possibilities. In buildings and on-line, 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 list of accessible features, including those used at this site (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;
  • when appropriate, consider using image description in your tags to provide further understanding of your work;

  • forms are often a problem; suggestions include to provide a downloadable word processing file (include contact information on it)
  • when possible, provide downloadable material in multiple formats, including tagged PDF, and Microsoft Word "doc" format (this format can be read by most word processors)

  • avoid "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; for more information see "CAPTCHA: How to do it right"

  • in page design and layout, 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;
  • at the same time, borders of some sort help with direction; so does single-column text;
  • if you must use the latest coding features or add-on programs, have an alternate for older browsers — avoid Flash (unless you provide a text-based site) and JavaScript, neither of which can be followed by screen readers
  • 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;

  • attempt to write hyperlinks so that they contain information about the link
  • do not include audio or videos files that open immediately when the page loads; when possible, set links to outside files of this type to hold until activated by the user;
  • set external links to open automatically in a new window;

  • test your site with real people who have real difficulties!
  • try using a screen reader so you understand what is going on with some of your audience. A demonstration version of Jaws will give a taste of how it works. If you have Microsoft Office 2010 or later, a free version of Window-Eyes is available.

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
  • How to design for accessibility from the BBC
  • Web Accessibility page from American Foundation for the Blind
  • Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool (WAVE), checks on-line or uploaded pages and displays access features
  • WebAim Checklist
  • Accessible Web Site Guidelines from University of Wisconsin
  • Virginia DeBolt, Accessibility Teaching Resources, Adobe PDF materials used to teach a web accessibility class
  • "Image Descriptions and How to Write them" from HubPages
  • Pause, Stop Hide: article by Rakesh Paladugula about using auto-start, auto-change, and similar features
  • The Art of Web Accessibility: Usability Principles, Accessibility Style (Steve Grobschmidt)
    • Part 1
    • Part 2
    • Part 3
  • Ramps gone wrong: the problem of putting accessibility guidelines ahead of user experience, Mark Palmer, April 2016
  • Designing for the extremes (or why your average user doesn't exist): usability of a web site has little to with "normal"
  • Advancing Accessibility for the Web — Google Developers Conference 2012
  • WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind)
  • Android Accessibility — Google Developers Conference 2012
  • Deque, a commercial website design firm, offers its Digital Accessibility courses free to people with disabilities (May 19, 2016). Click here for information about this offer.

Some of the material on this page was originally developed by GBGM as "Making Your Web Pages Accessible."

Tim Vermande, May 2016