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Dunbartonshire and Argyll & Bute valuation Joint Board
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Web Accessibility Guidelines

 

Making information available on the World Wide Web can allow you to reach a much larger audience than was ever possible before but only if you make sure that your pages are as accessible as possible. You should always try to make sure that you are not preventing anyone from accessing information you have published - partly to ensure as high a readership as possible, of course - but also because the Valuation Joint Board itself has a legal obligation to make sure it is not unfairly preventing anyone from accessing its services. Failure to take reasonable steps to keep material accessible could result in legal action and fines.

 

Who Can Have Problems?

 

There are a number of reasons why people should have difficulty accessing information on the web: people who are visually impaired, for example, or users with repetitive stress injuries can all have problems using the technology itself. Not all problems are health-related, however: users can also be denied access to some services if there computer is old and slow, or if they only have access to a low-capacity bandwidth connection to the Internet; alternatively, they could have reading or comprehension difficulties or English may not be their first language, which could prevent them from understanding excessively complicated language or jargon.

 

What Can I Do?

 

You will be relieved to know that some of the work is already been done for you by the portal system itself. There are some issues that you should be aware of, however, even if it is only to know why you cannot do some things.

Size

 

There is an upload size restriction on the portal limiting images to 200k and documents to 2Mb. This is to prevent editors from loading pages with lots of very large images of files that could impact heavily on download times. You may believe your material is so important that visitors should be happy to wait hours for it to be downloaded but connection time on dial-up costs money and it is unfair to place a financial burden on your viewers, if indeed they are willing to wait around for it at all, instead of going elsewhere.

Using Images or Colours to Convey Information

 

You should never use images to replace text or to convey information that is not also supplied in an alternative format. An example of this would be an image of a button saying "click here", which takes you to further information. As a visually impaired person cannot see the image, they will not be able to read the message and so may not be aware that further information is available or how to go about accessing it.

Another issue you should beware of is using colour to convey meaning. You can spend a lot of time making your text different colours to make it stand out but all your hard work (and potentially your meaning) will be completely lost on a user using a text-reader to access your pages, or even on someone with colour-blindness.

Moving Pictures

 

Moving images or flash animation can make websites look more exciting but flickering images can really interfere with many users' vision and add-on programs which require plug-ins to be installed can be even more restrictive. Even viewers without any particular problems with their vision can find moving images distracting and annoying when they are trying to view a page, so this sort of technology should be used sparingly and only when it actually adds to the information in question. In all cases, you have to ask yourself why you want to make something more complicated - is it because you think it will enhance your audience's experience or just because you can? You should always weigh up any potential benefits against the chances that you are preventing people from gaining access to your material at all.

Links and Alt Text

 

You may be aware that images can have alternative text associated with them, so that blind or partially sighted users can find out what the image contains and, in fact, the portal will insist that you supply alt text to your images when you upload them. What cannot be controlled, however, is the quality of the alternative text, as that relies on the common sense on the editor involved. Basically, when uploading an image you should ask yourself - if I couldn't see this image, what would be a sensible way of describing it? Most people would accept that "man with dog" is more meaningful than "image2" or, worse still, " ". The same principle applies to creating links - text editors often strip all the links out of a page and presents them in a list, in order to allow visually impaired users to quickly find information they are looking for, rather than having to read through every word on the page. Obviously, if all your links say "click here", then the list is going to be rather repetitive and not particularly helpful. Again, common sense would dictate that the link itself should contain some information about what is being linked to: "click here" or "more" is meaningless in most circumstances, whereas "download the Disability at Work Policy" or "go to the BBC's website" is a lot more useful.

Tables

 

Tables can make certain types of information much easier to read and interpret but again text readers can have difficulty with them as they will read out each cell in turn, losing the intended structure straight away. One way to deal with this is to define the top level of cells as Table Headers, using the <TH> tag. This forces the text reader to realise which cells contain the headings of the information and which the content and to read them out in the correct order. For example, in the table below, the cells at the top level have not been defined as Table Headers:

party

votes this year

votes last year

difference

labour

234

243

+9

conservatives

243

234

-9

greens

324

342

+18

 


Consequently, a text reader would read out this information as:

party
votes this year
votes last year
difference
labour
234
243
+9
conservatives
243
234
-9
greens
324
342
+18


Meaning that by the time they get to the last record, the user has probably already forgotten which number is which and will have to go back to the beginning and start again. Defining Table Headers, however, the list would read:

party: labour
votes this year: 234
votes last year: 243
difference: +9
party: conservatives
votes this year: 243
votes last year: 234
difference: -9
party: greens
votes this year: 324
votes last year: 342
difference: +18


As you can see, this makes much more logical sense.

In any case, tables can complicate the presentation of data and so should only be used when there is a clear requirement for one. In many cases, however, lists can do the job just as well.

 

 

West Dunbartonshire - from the banks of Loch Lomond to the shores of Clyde
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