Activity 2B
C&I 335
Summer, 1998

Sue Bogren
Urbana Middle School
Urbana, IL 61801

Accessibility Issues

To get his message out to the Internet world an author of a web page has a myriad of options available regarding design, color, images, and text. Browse the web and you will find animation, audio, and blinking text. If your audience is the average adolescent who grew up with electronic video games and will purchase your latest video game, then by all means use the bells and whistles; but if you need to get important information to a diverse audience, take care to make it accessible.

When I used "Bobby" to check my web pages, the activities pages all passed with four stars. The problems came on the portfolio page with its extra graphics and images. I had not added an alternate text description to the image of my family. That was easily remedied and not a reason to eliminate images from web pages. In fact some students with learning or attention difficulties will benefit greatly by having the visual image to accompany the text.

My browsing through websites such as CAST and EASI taught me that simplicity of page design was the goal in order to make pages accessible to blind, visually impaired, or learning disabled readers who may be using a text-to-speech application. What I hadn't realized was the scope of this problem. Running my portfolio page through "Bobby" brought up messages regarding the use of tables for page formatting and background images. Some screen readers have difficulty reading multicolumn text because they read across all the columns rather than down a single column. Bobby's suggestion for this problem is to provide a text-only version if you are using tables. Background images present difficulty for some visually impaired or learning disabled people especially if the contrast between the text and the image is not great.

Another consideration is browser compatibility. In order to provide new looks, some commercial browser manufacturers do not always follow HTML specifications. This can make your page unreadable by some browsers. Again, consider your audience and the browsers they may be using. I'm finding that a book recommended by our technology coordinator, Pam VanWalleghen, is very helpful. It is HTML 3.2 Visual Quick Reference Third Edition by Dean Scharf. The book is user-friendly and provides a quick resource to find the tags that are recognized by almost all browsers. As I gain experience in writing HTML documents, I'm finding that writing them myself rather than using a software application is becoming faster and easier for me to control. Whichever method you use, check for clear, easy to recognize tags.

The last consideration for easy accessibility of your pages is the download time of your webpage. Many people access Internet information from home computers using telephone modems that are very slow. If your page is complex, the download time will be longer than for a simpler page. This could become an issue for curricular materials, especially if you are preparing materials for attention disordered students. "Bobby's" graph of download time certainly provides a visual reminder of your page's download time.

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