Best Practices for Website Accessibility
Maintaining a well-organized website helps visitors navigate through the information presented. The Web Team is continually engaged in a process of designing and refining the Armstrong website to reflect best practices of accessibility and usability for all our audiences. The concepts in this section are key elements of these best practices and form the basis for the specific guidelines and procedures that follow.
Maintain a simple, consistent page layout throughout the site.
A consistent design and appearance makes it easier for visitors to find the information they seek. The Web Team worked with your department to establish a clear navigation menu and consistent layout for your website. These elements are delivered via a template maintained by Information Technology (IT) Services. In addition, the breadcrumb links at the top of each page continue the navigation on into the deeper pages of your site.
Use the clearest and simplest language appropriate for the site’s content.
Websites use less formal styles of presentation and language than normally used in academic materials. Web readers skim content quickly and get the most out of it when it's concise, clearly structured and well-organized. Simple language also helps visitors with cognitive disabilities and those who are not native speakers of the language. Keep sentences short and use concise, direct language that avoids jargon. Minimize the use of abbreviations, acronyms and technical terminology and define them where used.
Use standard, correctly formed HTML.
Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is the code used to create websites. Using standard HTML as defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) will ensure that your content can be accessed by all browsers used by visitors to your site. Most of our sites maintained through Expression Engine provide a set of tools that create correct HTML code. Proper use of these tools following the procedures outlined in these guidelines will ensure your pages conform to the standard.
Use headings to provide clear navigational structure for the page.
Headings break up blocks of text visually and provide organizational structure for the page. Screen readers also provide a way for users to quickly navigate Web pages using this heading structure. They can read or jump directly to top level elements (<h1>), next level elements (<h2>), third level elements (<h3>), and so on. Viewing or listening to this outline should give them a good idea of the content and structure of the page.
Use bullet and number lists where appropriate, and use them correctly.
Lists help sighted readers by breaking up blocks of text and highlighting groups of related items or sequences. When a list is coded correctly using an HTML list structure, screen readers identify the number and type of items in the list and enable users to easily skip all or part of the list if desired. There are three types of lists in HTML: unordered “bullet” lists, sequentially ordered “number” lists, and matched pair “definition” lists. These list structures should not be used simply to provide formatting effects such as indentation.
Use meaningful link text.
Screen-reader users can review the list of links on a page before taking the time to listen to the whole content. This is the equivalent of visually scanning a page to get an idea of its content and the available options. Because links are read out of context, it is important to provide link titles that make sense without reading the surrounding information. Link text such as “click here” or “more information” should not be used. Good link text is also important to help search engines find your pages.
Inform users when links open non-HTML content or open into new windows.
For highest accessibility, content should be delivered in HTML format wherever possible, but it is often helpful to provide a secondary version in a different format. Links to these alternate versions should specify the format and size of the linked document within the link text so it is available without the surrounding context. Links should not open into a pop-up or new window because it confuses screen-reader users when the focus changes without warning. If a link is set to open a new window, indicate this action within the link text.
Keep tables and charts simple and provide clear headings and a summary.
Tables help sighted users visualize relationships in content, but add complexity that can have the opposite effect for screen-reader users who cannot see the global structure. A screen reader can use table headers to provide row and column information while a user explores the data cells within a table. The summary provides information about the content of the table to a screen reader. Where possible, avoid complex tables (with row or column-spanning elements) by breaking them into multiple tables.
Provide alternative text for informative images; specify empty alt text for decorative images.
Graphics can greatly improve accessibility by providing visual cues that aid comprehension for individuals with cognitive disabilities. However, to support people with visual disabilities or those working in contexts where images may not be downloaded (e.g. mobile email), it is critical to provide a text alternative for every image that conveys information. If an image is used purely for decoration, it is equally important to specify it has no text alternative, so the screen reader will know to ignore it.
Provide synchronized captions for videos and text transcripts for audio files.
Multimedia formats like videos and audio files can be useful to enhance comprehension in the same way that graphics can be. However, they can present barriers to people with hearing impairments as well as to people with less sophisticated computer systems. Provide a text transcript of the visual elements (for the blind) and synchronized captions (for the deaf).
Make sure there is enough contrast between background and text.
People with low vision or color-blindness can have difficulty reading information on sites with busy backgrounds and dark colors. Some background images and colors obscure text and make reading difficult. The Web Team is responsible for ensuring compliance with general page backgrounds and layout elements, but you should be aware of this guideline when adding background colors in tables.
Don’t use color alone to convey information.
Color adds visual interest and can help clarify information, but it is important to ensure that all information conveyed with color is also conveyed by another means. Monitor settings, color-blindness, or using a device that doesn't display colors are all possible reasons why a visitor might have difficulty understanding information or completing a task where color is the only way the information is provided.