Joe Clark: Media access

Updated 2004.10.13

Web Essentials ’04 notes

What follows are notes from a presentation made 2004.10.01 in Sydney at the Web Essentials ’04 conference.

Day 2: Modus operandi


Today, we’ll discuss some of the practical issues in designing and developing Web sites that actually provide accessibility for the disabled groups we talked about yesterday.

If you’re an experienced standardista, you will have heard a lot of this advice before, but I expect that at least some of it will be new to all of you.


Where accessibility standards come from

I’ve got a whole section on this topic in another set of speaking notes.


Usability and accessibility

Start with valid code

Accessibility is a form of Web standards, and you need valid code for everything to work properly. A small number of minor errors aren’t gonna kill you, but valid code is actually a requirement of WCAG and it’s known to be beneficial to screen readers.

Design for highest compliance

Ask a standardista how to build a Web site and he or she will tell you to get everything working in a highly-standards-compliant browser like Mozilla, Firefox, Opera, or Safari first, and then fix things so it also works in browsers with worse standards compliance, like Internet Explorer for Windows.

That advice is also good for accessibility. Make everything compliant with whatever accessibility level you’ve decided on and then make any small improvements necessary. And the most important of those improvements is the principle I’m going to talk about next.


A great many problems in Web accessibility can be solved by making your site easier to use.

You can get around the fact that it’s difficult for screen-reader users and people with mobility impairments to skip over large blocks of navigation links by simply rethinking your navigation. Do you need large blocks of navigation links? Is there another way to do it?

You can get around the fact that forms are confusing and tedious to fill out for nearly everyone with a disability by making your forms simpler. Can you split it up into a couple of smaller forms? Do you really need a side-by-side layout, which usually means more complicated HTML?

We have some research that shows that accessible sites are easier for nondisabled people to use. What I’m saying is that simpler sites are more accessible, which in turn means that their ease of use increases further.

Specific topics

Now let’s consider some specific issues in Web design and the accessibility implication of each one.



Navigation and layout


  1. Can streamline for known user base
  2. The downside is: It may change. Hence you must have a plan worked out up front to accommodate new users on your closed network
  3. Valid code and usual principles apply


A superspecial extra! Here are some notes based on questions posed during the Web Essentials Q&As – just the ones with value for posterity.

What about MathML? Or should we just use CSS to simulate mathematics?
No, there’s now a plug-in for IE/Win that allegedly makes pages written in MathML (and how many of those are there?) actually accessible and usable to screen readers.
What about the real-world implications of Web accessibility? If I’ve got an accessible Web site, does that mean my offline business has to be accessible, too – accepting TTY calls, producing alternate-format materials, and the like?
Probably, but not necessarily. What you definitely must do, though, is have a contingency plan for such requests, as I explain in my book.
How different are WCAG 1.0 and the U.S. Section 508 regulations?
Jim Thatcher is the master of that question.

I’ll add more here as people jog my memory.