You should have carried out the exercise suggested in section 6, clarify your aims and objectives, before you can take the decision to produce the website in-house or look for an external web-designer.
Your website will need to look attractive, be quick to load and easy to use and, of course, you will want to make sure that it is accessible to everyone. In a later section we will explore what is meant by an accessible website. First, here are some suggestions about how to hire a web designer and what initial questions you should ask them.
Choose a web designer
Research by the Disability Rights Commission in 2004 found that 91% of website developers do not claim to have any real understanding of web access issues. So finding an individual or organisation who can help you build an accessible website is not an easy task. The Guild of Accessible Web Designers website has a page listing all of their members, so this would be a good place to start: www.gawds.org/listmembers.php. There is also a search facility on the site to help you find a web designer in your area.
You need to do some research in order to find out which designers might be appropriate for your organisation’s needs. You can do this in a number of ways: by asking other organisations who have used web designers for recommendations; by surfing the web yourself to find out which sites you particularly like and finding out who designed them; and by following up on companies that advertise the fact that they build accessible websites.
You can, of course, consider people already working in your organisation, e.g. designers, or someone with the ability to create a website and the capacity to learn to make it accessible. If you do choose this option, it is important to allocate them time and space for this specific task and not expect them to add this on to their existing job. Not giving sufficient resources to the person creating the website is often a major stumbling block for smaller organisations.
Once you have found a selection of possible designers and looked at some of the websites they have built to see if you like them, run them through the ‘Cynthia Says’ accessibility checker at www.cynthiasays.com/default.asp to verify their access claims.
Questions to ask
When you have a list of likely candidates, contact them for further information. Here are some questions you could ask:
- What will be the total cost of design? Having gone through the previous exercise you should have a good idea of how many pages and graphics will be on your site.
- Who have they previously designed websites for?
- How will you update pages or add pages to the website?
- Will you be able to update the site yourself?
If they do not provide a way for you to update your own site get a clear indication of how much it will cost to get them to add or edit information on the site. Specify in your tender document that any updates to the website must also be accessible.
- Do they carry out accessibility and usability tests of the website?
- Do they provide visitor statistics?
- Will the site have interactive features like guest books and discussion forums?
- Will the site be an accessible website?
- What level of conformance with the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) will the site have?
If the web designers claim to design in accordance with WCAG there should be no hesitation in providing this information.
Website Tender Documents
Specify as a condition of your tender document that the resulting website must conform to the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Access Guidelines available at www.w3.org
The W3C produces a set of guidelines called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which outline three levels of accessibility compliance for websites, with the first level being the least accessible. There is some debate on what level of conformance is appropriate. SAIF recommends that you aim for, at least, Level Two compliance.
An inaccessible website places your organisation at risk of not complying with the Disability Discrimination Act – and therefore at risk of a complaint from a disabled person.
It is suggested that the following information is added to your tender documents:
- Minimum Priority 2 compliance with Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG). This helps to ensure that the content of websites will be flexible enough to adapt to unpredictable user needs.
- The website must be created using valid (X)HTML.
This provides the best chance that sites will work on all hardware platforms and all web browsers.
Websites may pass accessibility tests but still place some disabled people at a ‘substantial disadvantage’ when compared to their non-disabled peers. If there is a budget available the tender document should also make provision for testing with disabled users to ensure the site is usable and accessible in practice.
What is meant by accessible web design?
The internet is, and will be increasingly, used by local and national government, banks, educational establishments, shops, information providers and indeed in every conceivable area of life to deliver information and services. Internet delivery of information and services is slowly replacing more traditional methods. As alternative methods disappear, so does choice – and it becomes critical to ensure that new delivery methods are accessible to everyone.
Almost 75% of all website traffic is image-based. Multimedia-rich sites are inaccessible to many disabled people; e.g. a visually impaired person who uses a speech synthesiser cannot make sense of information on the World Wide Web when it is purely graphics-based.
There are approximately 1.7 million individuals in the UK who are unable to read standard print with ease, 17 million adults with literacy problems and one million people with learning difficulties (Informability Manual Central Office of Information; Wendy Gregory, 1996, HMSO, ISBN 0117020389).
Therefore, the language you use is important. Adopt strategies throughout the process that will help you match your writing to the needs and knowledge of your readers. For help, advice and training on using jargon-free, straightforward language contact the Plain English Campaign at www.plainenglish.co.uk
Create a website design that is flexible
You will not be able to predict the needs of all the visitors to your website. So the best design is one that visitors to your site will be able to modify to suit their own needs. For example, check that colours, font and font size can be changed using your web browser preferences. If the text size can’t be changed it means your site might not be accessible to someone who has a visual impairment.
Separate layout and content
The best way to create a website design that is flexible is to use cascading style sheets (CSS) for the style of text and layout of the pages. By doing that you separate the content, the actual information, from how you present that information and you can change one or the other independently. Your presentation/layout of the page might work very well for a lot of people but not for all. A user who needs a different contrast or colour scheme to access the information can change the style sheet and adjust it to his/her own requirements.
Web accessibility issues for particular groups
This section identifies some of the main considerations you must make in relation to the way groups of people with different needs can access your website.
A key point to remember, however, is that disabled people are not the sum total of their disability, they are individuals with varying abilities, backgrounds and levels of support. As individuals they will also have a wide range of interests and will use the World Wide Web for different things.
As this guide is specifically about disabled people we have concentrated on impairment-related guidance. However, if you are committed to accessibility, there are also a number of other factors you may want to take into account, depending on the focus of your website.
If you want to ensure that your website is accessible to other potentially excluded groups we suggest you go to www.socialexclusionunit.gov.uk/page.asp?id=108 to find out more about the work of PAT 15 (Policy Action Team) on information technology. This is a government initiative that, amongst other useful things, identifies the specific needs of different minority ethnic groups, women, young and older people as well as disabled people. It provides lots of ideas on accessibility as well as links to all kinds of interesting initiatives taking place in the UK and elsewhere.
People with visual impairment
The access needs of visually impaired people can be as variable as the number of people with visual impairment visiting your website. Flexibility therefore is the key to ensuring that your website is accessible to everyone. Those with some vision may need to be able to enlarge text (or make it very small), or change the contrast or colours on the web page. Others will access web pages using software which converts text into synthesised speech or makes them accessible via a braille display.
You must ensure that the design of your web pages does not make it difficult for a person with visual impairment to be able to customise the page for his/her own needs.
Designing a website to be accessible to a person with a visual impairment – or indeed for anyone – can be a complex subject. The following general principles apply to designing for users with a visual impairment, but are just as relevant to all groups:
- Provide text equivalents for all non-text objects on the page – speech synthesisers can’t read graphics, and graphic text can’t be enlarged in the same way as ordinary text. All graphics should have text labels, i.e. alt-tags, alternative attributes in HTML (Hyper Text Mark-up Language).
- Don’t design the page in a way that stops the user from setting their own browser preferences, i.e. don’t specify exact sizes for fonts or layouts – design everything in relative sizes.
- Use valid HTML and add structure to your pages by using the correct tags for headings, paragraphs, lists and so on. Many access software programs depend on the content of the pages being marked up correctly. Some of them can give an overview of the page by extracting all the headers and links and presenting them on a single page. If you have no headers on your page and all your links say ‘click here’ then the accessibility of your website will be very low.
There is very useful, more detailed information about designing for users with visual impairment at: www.rnib.org.uk/digital/hints.htm
Deaf/hard of hearing people
Although it may not be immediately obvious how a predominantly visual medium like the web can be inaccessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing there are some points worth noting.
Many deaf or hard of hearing people – particularly if they are sign-language users – do not have highly developed reading skills. Sign language is a different language from standard written English. Some people who use sign language therefore have a limited reading vocabulary. The use of simple, clear language will help to ensure that deaf or hard of hearing people can access the information on your web pages.
If you use audio or video provide text-based transcripts and closed captioning. Closed captioning on the web when not directly embedded within the video consists of a link to a ‘script’ of the video – the link to the script should be located close to the video clip.
Guidelines for implementing captioning for video can be found at www.samazdat.com/pac2.html in an article by Mike Paciello. For more detailed information about web accessibility for deaf people, see www.zak.co.il/deaf-info/old/home.html
Physically or mobility impaired people
For people who have difficulty using their hands or whose hand/eye co-ordination is restricted, the following guidelines can improve access:
- Provision of buttons rather than text for navigation to provide a larger ‘target’ for links. Having said that – if you design your web pages so that the text can be resized easily there should be no need to use graphics so that you can provide a larger target.
- Clear consistent layouts and navigation.
- Remember to consider the physical access to the computer itself. If a website is being designed for use in a public kiosk, the kiosk should be accessible to wheelchair users.
People with learning difficulties
There are of course marked differences in cognitive skills between individuals with learning difficulties. However there are some general rules worth applying.
Design simple uniform screen layouts with the option of only viewing one thing at a time. Use plain language and avoid pages overloaded with too many distractions or too many choices. For the same reason avoid long lists of links unless they are arranged in logical groups of no more than five or six links each.
The combination of auditory information, pictures and text helps to reinforce navigation and actions. This will also be useful for people who cannot read or are surfing the web with assistance. Auditory information should be clear, simple and repeatable.
Other suggestions include:
- provide a plain language description of the site,
- include a simple way to return to your home page,
- avoid animated graphics,
- simplify sequences – limit the choice and number of steps.