For most people, websites are a very visual medium. Many users assume that someone who is blind or partially sighted would be unable to use a computer at all, let alone use the internet. This is of course not the case, particularly now that many technologies such as screen readers have become more mainstream.
Screen readers enable blind or partially sighted users to understand the content on a computer screen by literally reading it aloud. On Apple computers and iOS devices, VoiceOver is included by default. On Windows JAWS is a popular choice. The problem with these technologies are numerous; they typically can't read textual content from images, they generally read content from the top of the page to the bottom, and from left to right. For many webpages this results in the whole contents of the navigation being read out on every page. It can also mean that content in columns can be read in the wrong order.
Websites built on the newest versions of our custom built CMS employ a number of best practices in order to ensure that our sites are as accessible as possible.
The Web Accessibility Initiative's Accessible Rich Internet Applications specification attempts to enable pages to label what different parts of the page is for to ensure screen readers can identify the difference between the navigation and the content. It also allows forms to be clearly labeled so that it is clear which fields are required, as well as whether an element on a form is a checkbox, or a slider or something different altogether.
Our sites make use of the landmark roles to allow screen readers to safely skip to the content on the page without missing anything.
Content separate from presentation
Our sites keep the content separate from the presentation, as well as making sure that there is no text hidden in images. Whereas many sites produce images of text in applications such as Photoshop or Flash, our sites make careful use of font embedding and clever techniques to ensure that all content is easily accessible.
Structure and Order
We make careful use of structural elements to ensure the structure of the page is clear. Headings are marked up as headings, lists as lists, paragraphs as paragraphs. Our sites still make sense without any styling applied.
Our sites are in the correct order when viewing the code â we don't move things around behind the scenes. Some sites use odd methods to get things in the right places that involve putting columns in the wrong order, or putting sidebars before the main content.
Our images include information that describes what they are of, ensuring visual content isn't missed.
Another benefit of all of this is that search engines such as Google also benefit from this clear and careful layout out behind the scenes. There is always more that can be done to make sites accessible so if you are a user of screen readers or any other accessibility technology then we would love to hear from you!