The internet is not only used by sighted people, and it’s important to remember that blind and partially sighted people may be visiting your website. You’ll want to make sure the information on your site is accessible as possible. One way to accomplish this is to make sure your website is usable with screen-reader software. Screen readers are applications installed on computers and mobile devices that read text on websites, dialogue boxes and application windows out to their readers. Some common screen-reading programs include JAWS (Windows), VoiceOver (Mac/iOS), NVDA (Windows) or Festival (Linux).
There are several ways you can make your website usable by people who use screen readers:
- Using alternative text in your HTML code – you can insert a description for your image using the ‘alt’ property in HTML. For example, if you have a photo of a woman holding a dog, you could insert a description saying ‘Woman holding a brown dog’, which will be read by the screen reader. If your image is just a decorative element, like a divider, use the alt text code, but use a blank space so the screen reader doesn’t just give the user the file name. Remember to keep your descriptions simple and basic – offer the information you need, but don’t make the descriptions so lengthy and complicated that it distracts your readers from the content on the website itself. (Note: If your site is based on WordPress, recent versions (3.9.2 as of writing) allow you to add an image description when you’re uploading an image using the media uploader.)
- Avoid building your site entirely in Flash. You can insert Flash videos, but keep your text in plain HTML. Flash is more difficult for screen readers to recognise. This is luckily a dying trend, but there are still some sites out there that tend to use large amounts of Flash.
- JQuery and AJAX effects can be visually appealing to sighted users, but can be a barrier to blind and partially sighted/visually impaired users. Tumblr used to be accessible with screen readers, but since the site has introduced more advanced effects, it’s become more difficult for people using screen readers to use. Do you really need another animated slide-in window or pop-up input window?
You may also want to read ‘The blind community’s fight for a more accessible web‘ at The Daily Dot.