Getting started with practical web accessibility, section 1 Twelve simple rules:

Why these rules?

We will begin with a few practical ways of making web pages more accessible. They are described as simple rules, which can be applied by anyone who knows how to create pages. The rules do not constitute any standard or recommendation, and they cover just a few aspects of accessibility. Yet, let us start from practicalities rather than theoretical foundations. This will help you to get an idea of what accessibility means at the level of actual work. Besides, following these rules you will easily make your pages far more accessible than most web pages are.

There is not much hi-tech involved in these rules. This makes it possible to present some basic principles in a  manner that is widely understandable to authors (and other people, too). There is a deeper reason, too. Much of basic accessibility is technically simple. It is to some extent even matter of avoiding hi-tech in issues where it would cause accessibility problems.

The rules are here flagged with one, two, or three asterisks that indicate an estimate of the ease of implementation. This refers to satisfying the rules in a typical case where the rule is relevant. One asterisk means that the process is rather straightforward, two asterisks mean that a substantial effort and often some creativity is needed, and three asterisks mean that the process often requires conversion work or alternate content production and can thus be expensive.

  1. Check the language of the most important pieces of text, such as headings, summaries, first paragraph of each page, and navigation links. Use as simple and concrete language as possible, and check the spelling, too. **
  2. Use descriptive link texts, no “this” or “click here” links. Check that each link text is at least marginally meaningful when read in isolation. *
  3. Use adequate textual alternatives (alt texts) for all images. This means empty text (alt="") for decorative images. *
  4. For each image contributing content to the page, provide either a textual explanation of the essential content or a link to such an explanation. **
  5. Do not embed auto-starting audio, video, or animated images. Use links instead. *
  6. Provide text transcriptions or descriptions for all audio and video clips. ***
  7. Provide alternative mechanisms for online forms, such as e-mail address or phone numbers. *
  8. Make all documents available in HTML format or, in some cases, plain text format. Other formats such as PDF, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft Excel can be offered as alternatives, not as the only format. ***
  9. Organize pages so that they make sense and work when read linearly (by the HTML source order). In particular, if there is repetitive content such as a list of navigational links on every page, provide a simple link that lets the user to skip over it, to the content. **
  10. Do not set the copy text font size, or set it to 100% or, if deemed necessary, to a percentage value, in the range 85% to 100%. *
  11. Avoid any constructs that impose a large minimum width for rendering the document, such as width values for tables. A page should work without horizontal scrolling in a window that is 550 pixels wide. **
  12. If your site has serious accessibility problems, explain them and possible ways that people can use to cope with them. Use a separate page for this, and link to it with a prominent link (such as “accessibility info”) on the main page. **

Usually no special tools are needed to implement the rules. You can work with the program that you normally use to create and edit web pages. This can be anything from a simple editor like Notepad to a highly sophisticated authoring system that utilizes templates, data bases, preprocessing, and whatever. Perhaps you use a program like FrontPage or Nvu that lets you work with menus and buttons as in text processing but also gives you an optional access to HTML source code. In any case, you know your authoring tool and you will learn more about it if needed.

However, you may find some additional tools useful. For example, if your authoring tools has no spell checker built into it, you might use a separate program for the purpose. If you have many images on your page, you might use a markup validator that will check, among other things, that every image has an alt attribute. We will mention some of such tools in the subsequent sections that deal with each of the twelve rules separately in more detail.