Basic Web Accessibility Tutorial: Introduction

Version 1.0, October 14, 2009


What is covered in this tutorial?

This tutorial will focus on the accessibility of Web content, but the concepts we discuss here apply to information stored in other formats as well.

This is part 1 of a 3 part tutorial. Here is a short description of each part.

Definitions of terms used in this tutorial

The degree to which a device, service, or environment can be used by as many people as possible. Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, interact with, and contribute to the Web.
Web content
Any Web page or Web application that is displayed in a Web browser. This is normally HTML content, but might also include other non-HTML elements, such as Java applets or multimedia players.
Accessible Web content
Web content that has been designed and created to comply with accessibility guidelines, with the goal of enabling the largest possible audience to use the content, regardless of disability or method of access.

Accessibility: It's about People

When we publish a Web page or a Web application, we must make sure the content is usable by everyone who needs to access it. But everyone has their own style of learning, and some people do not process information as easily, or in the same manner as others.

For example:

For your Web page or Web application to be fully accessible, you must be able to answer yes to all of those questions. Accessibility means that everyone can use your Web content regardless of his or her level of ability.

In the following sections, we will discuss how a person with varying levels of ability might interact with your Web content, so we can begin to understand the issues involved in creating Web content that is accessible to everyone.

Note: Although this tutorial will focus on Web content, the concepts we discuss here apply to information stored in other formats as well.

If I cannot see

If I cannot see, how will I use your Web content? First, this could mean many things. For example:

If I am blind, how does that affect my ability to use your Web content?

If I cannot see the screen, I will probably interact with the Web content as follows:

Here are some of the challenges I will have in understanding the content:

How about if I have limited vision?

Limited vision can mean many things, so there might be a few options available to me, depending on my vision.

How about if I'm colorblind?

To be colorblind means that I cannot distinguish between two or more colors. The most common type of colorblindness is red/green, where red and green colors both might look like the same shade of brown.

More about screen readers

If I cannot see, I cannot do a quick visual scan of a page to find information, links, images, or other items that might interest me, or to skip items that are unnecessary. Also, the mouse is useless to me, since I cannot see where it is pointing, so I will probably be using a keyboard to navigate from the top to the bottom of the page.

The screen reader helps me do those things that a sighted user does without a second thought.

How can a screen reader describe a picture?

The screen reader cannot describe the picture without some help from the page author.

What else must the page author do for screen reader users?

There are other things you must do to make sure I, as a screen reader user, can understand your Web content. For example, you should be sure to use section headings (<h1>, <h2>, and so on) to structure content, and use descriptive link text when creating hyperlinks to other pages. You also need to provide the ability to disable background audio that might interfere with the screen reader. More hints and requirements are discussed through the rest of this and other available tutorials.

If I cannot hear

If I cannot hear, how will I use your Web content? First, there are differing levels of hearing ability. For example:

If I am deaf, how does that affect my ability to use your Web content?

If I cannot hear, I will probably interact with the Web content using the mouse, keyboard, and display. However, if audio content is provided, either as part of a video, or as an audio-only element, I will miss it.

What if I am hard of hearing?

If I am hard of hearing, I may be able to hear your audio content, but I may need the ability to control the volume, not only for your content but for any other audio content that might be occurring at the same time.

Considerations for volume control of the audio content:

If I cannot use a mouse

Many people cannot effectively use the mouse. For example:

How does this affect my ability to use Web content?

If I cannot use a mouse, I must use my keyboard or some other input device to do all of the things that the mouse is normally used for, such as:

How do I use the keyboard to do those things?

Here are some techniques I will use to navigate and interact with Web content using a keyboard.

What if I am using a screen reader?

For the most part, I will use the same keys to navigate and use Web content as if I did not have a screen reader running.

If I have cognitive issues

Cognitive issues affect my ability to absorb the information you are trying to present.

What are cognitive issues?

Cognitive issues involve the way my brain processes information. For example:

How does this affect my use of your Web content?

Because there are a variety of cognitive issues, there are a number of ways they might affect my experience with your Web content.

What next?

This was the introduction to Web accessibility issues. For details on how to make your Web content accessible, proceed to the next portion of this tutorial: Basic Web Accessibility Tutorial: Design and Development.

More information

Related DARS tutorials

General Web page coding resources

General Web accessibility information

Web accessibility test tools