The Nielsen Norman Group has made one of their reports Beyond ALT Text: Making the Web Easy to Use for Users With Disabilities free for download. It is a great reasoned report on how and what the obstacles the handicapped encounter while using the web. I recommend you to download and read the report fully.
I took some notes and here are a few extracts I found really useful as a web designer.
The blind use the web for:
- Researching stock trading
- Find recipes
- HAM radio signals
- Phone book
- Directions to own house
- Listen to radio
- Search for jobs
- Download music
- Participate in fan site discussions
- Download books on tape
Also interesting to note is, more sighted users use “help” than non-sighted users
There are 75 best practices for designing for the handicapped users. But I found the following tips most useful for designing accessible websites:
- Follow basic rules of good design.
- Minimize the use of graphics.
- Use ALT text to briefly describe images, and the LONGDESC attribute to thoroughly describe them.
- Never blur pictures to indicate unavailability. Remove the picture from view (e.g. button graphics).
- Make it easy for users to skip any multimedia and Flash demos.
- Do not automatically create a text-only version of your site.
- Avoid using pop-up windows. If you do use pop-up dialog boxes, make sure the default action is the most forgiving.
- Avoid opening new browser windows. If you do open new browser windows, always provide a simple way to get back to the site’s main homepage.
- Avoid using cascading menus.
- Limit the number of links on a page (not more than 20).
- Avoid very small buttons and tiny text for links.
- Minimize the need for scrolling.
- Limit the amount of information that forms require; collect only the minimum needed.
- Make sure tab order is logical. Match the tab order to the visual layout when possible.
- In forms, put any instructions pertaining to a particular field before the field, not after it.
- Test your sites text fonts and colors with screen magnifiers.
- Avoid using tables for aesthetic page design.
- Especially in tables, do not use graphics to indicate a state, such as yes/no or on/off.
- Summarize all tables (using SUMMARY attribute).