"The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect."
Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web
Internet and intranet sites often fall short of their true potential due to a lack of awareness about how to create accessible sites. The reality is that in most workplaces there are some people with disabilities who would benefit from sites designed with accessibility in mind. With the widespread use of intranets, many day-to-day work processes are now carried out online. It is imperative that these intranet applications be accessible and easy to use by all workers.
Far too often Web design teams charge full-speed ahead with little awareness of accessible or inclusive design methods. At the time of production, someone might raise a question about accessibility, and the site is then reviewed. At this point, problems with accessibility come to light. As the Webmaster, you are faced with the difficult decision of whether to modify the design, leave it for someone else in the future to figure out, or start over. Retrofitting a Web site after the fact is a task best avoided. Clearly, it pays to plan for accessibility from the beginning, putting standards and guidelines in place for intranet sites and making sure your Web development team understands the technical and non-technical aspects of accessible Web design.
WHAT IS WEB SITE ACCESSIBILITY?
An accessible Web site provides information in a way that is easily understood by someone who has a disability. This could be someone with a vision, hearing, mobility, or cognitive impairment.
In the U.S., an estimated 20 percent of the population falls under the legal definition of disability [www.census.gov/Press-Release/cb98-ff. 12.html]. The proportion of the population that would benefit from an accessible site is considered to be much higher than this. Consider circumstances in which employees have to use a text-only screen or a slow connection. Perhaps they lack fluency in the language in which the document was written. In addition, workplace conditions may affect some employees' ability to access the intranet. Are their hands busy with driving, using equipment, or are they working in a loud or brightly lit environment? Personal circumstances can also be factors. Perhaps the employee has a broken wrist or has opted to use a voice reader to help alleviate carpal tunnel syndrome.
COMMON MYTHS & MISCONCEPTIONS
Myths and misconceptions about creating accessible intranet sites abound.
1. It's too expensive.
A common misconception is that developing accessible sites is too expensive. Often Web developers think that developing an accessible site means that they will have to develop two versions--graphical and text-only. Yet with some care and planning up front, most intranets will not need a second version. Through effective of use of ALT tags and style sheets, many intranet pages can be used by anyone.
In exceptional cases, a text-only version of an area may be necessary. Sometimes an area uses a multimedia presentation to create an impression, mood, or particular effect. In these cases, a text equivalent will be needed. Strive to create with words and messages the same effect that the multimedia conveys.
Some sites choose to utilize a special script such as Betsie, a filter tool developed by the BBC, that automatically generates a text only version of their site [www.bbc.co.uk/education/betsie/index.html].
2. Accessible sites are plain and boring.
Another common misconception is that developing a Web-accessible site means that you cannot use video, images, or multimedia. This is simply not the case. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) site, which has a strong commitment to developing recommendations to ensure Web site accessibility, states that its "guidelines do not discourage content developers from using images, video, etc. …