Web accessibility case studies

Written by Adrian Holovaty on June 27, 2002

On his blog, Mark Pilgrim has been posting a continuing series of suggestions on how to improve the usability and accessibility of weblogs. A few snippets: He recommends using meaningful page titles, reminds us to make sure links are easily distinguished as such, and even touches on lesser-known concepts like putting your main content first. (Read the whole series here.)

Mark's examples are particularly charming because he includes character sketches of five people -- Jackie, Michael, Bill, Lillian and Marcus -- who each deal with a disability in a different way, and aren't able to use the traditional Web browsers that, unfortunately, the majority of Web sites cater to almost exclusively.

This series of postings was intended for bloggers, but I can't even begin to express how valuable these tips are to news sites. Yesterday, I spent a few moments checking out major news sites in Lynx, a text-only browser, and I was severely disheartened by the results. (I'll post screenshots later tonight, if I have time.) Most home pages were terrifying seas of spacer GIFs and nested tables, with nearly nonexistent structural integrity.

The problem is, these sites use all sorts of HTML hacks in order to position their content, when they could -- and should -- be using Cascading Style Sheets. Instead, users of text-only browsers are greeted with lines and lines of irrelevant (and unreadable) [spacer] placeholders that make the content pretty much unreadable.

It seems to me that, above almost any other Web content providers (with the possible exception of government), news outlets need to make their content accessible. As fond as journalists are of championing the common man and trumpeting access to information, it's a sad irony that the very proponents of "information for the masses" don't practice what they preach.

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