Making Websites Accessible: 4 What is e-communication?

Within this document we refer to e-communication as including websites, emails and electronic documents. This section gives a brief overview of some of the jargon involved in e-communication.

Everyone knows about websites. They can provide a lot of useful information, goods and services and be the gateway to online communities. A website can include static pages, dynamic pages, message boards, discussion forums, news feeds, blogs, downloadable documents, forms and streaming media like sound and video, to name but a few of the most frequent features.
Static web pages
A static page is a basic HTML page that remains the same for all users until the developer changes the content by editing the code behind the page. You usually see .htm .html .xhtm or .xhtml as the ending in the webpage’s address or URL (uniform resource locator).
Dynamic web pages
In dynamic web pages, the appearance of a page or part of a page changes without the whole page being reloaded. This could be, for example, a continuous update of the weather, a currency exchange rate or a form that gives immediate feedback on information you are trying to submit. Dynamic pages can also contain customised content depending on who the user is, what equipment they are using, the time, location or earlier set preferences. These pages are usually connected to a database and the ending of the URL can be .dhtm .dhtml .js .asp .php .jsp or .net
Pages with Flash animation, sound and interactivity are dynamic pages. Whole websites can be built as a Flash animation or included just as a part of an otherwise static page. It is often used for adverts and small games. Flash has been known to be inaccessible but efforts are being made to build in accessibility options in the program producing Flash pages.
Message boards and discussion forums
Message boards are used to discuss topics relevant to a certain group. A user posts a message, which everyone can see, someone else posts a reply and a discussion builds up. Message boards are also known as web forums or internet forums.
News feeds – RSS
News feeds are a way of collating and distributing news from different sources. They allow users to create their own personal news pages, containing only the topics they are interested in.
RSS is an abbreviation, most commonly for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary, used to indicate a news feed.
A blog or a web-log is a website that someone is writing publicly, reflecting her/his own views and interests. Blogs often offer commentary or news on a particular subject, such as food, politics, or local news and some are set up as more personal diaries. The entries are most often in reverse chronological order, with the latest entry first.
Documents and forms
Documents and forms distributed via email or downloadable from the internet are most often in the format of:

  • Word documents with filenames ending in .doc,
  • PDF (portable document format) ending .pdf,
  • RTF (rich text format) ending with .rtf.

Forms can be used to take bookings for training courses, sell items from your website and give feedback about the website content.

Sound and video
Some websites have sound and video. To hear the sound your computer needs to have a sound card installed. Most computers bought today will have one built-in when you buy it. You also need speakers or headphones to listen to the sound. Small speakers can be built into the computer system, others can be attached to it. Sound and video files can take time to download and start, especially if you are using a dial-up modem.
You may also need additional software to your browser, called plug-ins, when you want to access sound, video, pdf and PowerPoint files. The browser plug-in will interpret files, other than webpages, so you can see and/or hear them. The plug-in required depends on what file format the media you want to access is produced in. Usually your computer will prompt you to download the required software. Some of the more common plug-ins are Windows Media Player, Quick Time, RealAudio, RealOne and Music Match.
Email is a simple and cheap way to keep in touch with the people in your network. To use email you need to have an email account with a provider. Most internet service providers (ISP) give you one or more email accounts when you sign up to use their internet connection services. This email account can be hosted on a local server or be web-based. If hosted locally, you can only access your email at the computer connected up to the local server. Most work place email accounts are of this type. If the account is internet-based it means that you can access your emails from any computer with an internet connection. You just need to remember your password and login name.
Email lists
An email list or mailing list refers to a list of names and email addresses. It can be used when sending information by email to many people at the same time. A simple mailing list would be when individuals are grouped together in your own email program so that you can send the same email to them all at the same time. More sophisticated mailing lists allow individuals to subscribe and unsubscribe themselves from the list and are generally web-based.
Mailing lists can be used for announcements, discussions and newsletters. Some mailing lists are open to anyone who wants to join them, while others require an approval from the list owner.
Discussion lists can be moderated, where every message must be approved before being sent to the rest of the subscribers. This gives a higher quality service and keeps out spam (junk email).
Electronic newsletters are the email equivalent of the paper-based version, i.e. an informative, regular mailing with news. The email-based one can be in plain text or HTML formatted. The plain text can only include text with no images. The HTML formatted can include the same content as a web page – and the same guidelines for accessibility apply to them as to a web page. More detail on accessible emails is in section 10.
Try to ensure that the electronic information you produce is accessible to the widest possible audience. The key is to make the presentation of your content flexible, so that users can change it to suit their own needs. For example, make it easy for people to alter text and background colours, change the size of the text and change the order in which content can be presented. Screen reading software can do this when content is well structured. When documents cannot be made accessible, consider providing an alternative way of accessing the same content. Dealing with access issues early in the publishing process will save a lot of time and money. It is always much harder to add-in accessibility at the end.
Making e-communication accessible is important so that it doesn’t exclude people using assistive technology, for example screen readers, magnifying software, braille printers, keyboard only software, switches, etc. As with all information it should be produced in a well designed, attractive and user friendly format, using plain language.
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