Responsive design is about creating sites that change their layout according to the device they are being displayed on. for the most part, this means altering the layout to accommodate different screen sizes.
However, this doesn’t mean that responsive sites are automatically accessible. It doesn’t imply anything about the many requirements of making website accessible to people with different needs. For example images will need to have text labels for people who can’t see images, links will need to make sense when read out of context for people who use a keyboard to jump from link to link on the page. And for everyone – but critical for people with cognitive impairments – content needs to be well structured and easy to navigate.
In very (very) simple terms; a responsive website responds to screen size and an accessible website responds to a users’ access needs.
For example, in a responsive design, an image will resize itself to fit within the parameters of a smaller or larger screen; for accessibility the function of the image responds to the users’ needs by ensuring that function can be accessed in additional ways – other than just visually. For example, by having a text label attached to the image. So if the image is a search button; the text will say ‘Search’; if the images is a bar graph the information displayed in the bar graph will be available as text – perhaps via link to a different web page if a long explanation is needed.
To be fair – for many developers – responsive design is about making a site ‘usable’ on different devices – not just viewable. So for example the site doesn’t just adjust to accommodate the smaller screen size of a tablet computer, it also modifies the navigation scheme to suit the needs of tablet users (this could mean for example, having navigation that can be accessed by the users’ thumbs while they hold the device).
From this point of view responsive design could have have something to offer for people using alternative devices to access web content; if the website itself is responsive to how the users’ access device works that is a good thing and helps accessibility in the wider sense of the word; for example, by automatically adding skip links to a page to help someone who is using a screen reader.
Flexibility – is an important principle of accessible website design; content presentation should be flexible enough to accommodate the users’ needs; some of those needs are related to the device the person is using so a responsive website design is not the same as accessible website design, however, it can help make a site more accessible.Contact me if you need a responsive accessible website.
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