City University London Web Team

Category Archives: Accessibility

IWMW 2013 – Bath

Accessibility, Responsive Design, Website.

Returning back to London from another IWMW there are many memories and lots to describe to my fellow colleagues and those who couldn’t attend.  The main organiser Brian Kelly (a legend of the institutional web)  again made me feel the romantic and the passion of working within a University’s web team and in general for the educational sector. (more…)

WCAG 2.0 in less than 100,000 words

Accessibility, Development .

We like the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium); they concern themselves with good things like interoperability and the creation of Web Standards and guidelines, and in doing so have stayed true to the founding principles of the web as envisaged by the inventor of the web, Tim Berners-Lee. A Berners-Lee quote on the importance of developing an accessible web features prominently on W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative homepage, and a key component of this desire for universality of access to the web is the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Web developers the world over have been eagerly trawling through the minutiae of the first update to WCAG  for almost 10 years. However, while we all know that “accessibility matters”, the actual WCAG 2.0 guidelines themselves are somewhat….dry. So we thought it might be nice to provide an ‘executive summary’ for City staff who want to know what WCAG 2.0 is and does, but don’t want to spend a day doing so.

In essence, WCAG 2.0 consists of four tiers:

  1. Principles that provide the foundations of web accessibility.
  2. Non-measurable guidelines – goals that editors should be working towards.
  3. Success criteria – specific, measurable goals for each guideline.
  4. Techniques to achieve the success criteria.

The four tiers of WCAG 2.0

1. Perceivable

Information and user interface components (i.e. the things that make up all web pages) must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive. Guidelines for this principle are:
  • Provide text alternatives for any non-text content.
  • Provide alternatives for time-based media (e.g. captions or alternative media for video).
  • Adaptable, i.e. can present content in different ways without losing information or structure.
  • Distinguishable, i.e. make it easy for users to see and hear content (e.g. through use of colours, contrast).

2. Operable

User interface (UI) components and navigation must be easy to use. Guidelines for this principle are:
  • Content should be accessible via keyboard access.
  • Users should have enough time to read and use content, e.g. pause and stop time-based media.
  • Don’t use content that could induce seizures.
  • Navigable. Help users navigate to content and determine where they are.

3. Understandable

Information, and the operation of UI components, must be understandable. Guidelines for this principle are:
  • Readable. Avoid jargon, explain abbreviations and acronyms, consider the reading level of your audiences.
  • Predictable. Provide consistent navigation, ensure that changes are only initiated by user request.
  • Input assistance. Help users avoid and correct mistakes.

4. Robust

Users need to be able to interpret content across a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies like screen readers.
  • Maximise compatibility with as many browsers, operating systems and user agents as possible.
If you want to know more,  check out this briefing from the always-informative Paul Boag. In particular, it’s worth looking at what he has to say about avoiding the ‘checkbox mentality’ approach to web accessibility, and how we should be taking a pragmatic approach to WCAG 2.0 (see from approx. 19:00 onwards).

How to write for the web

Accessibility, General , , , .

Recently, a member of the Web Team was reading a mailing list thread started by a guy by the name of Marvin who wanted feedback on his Star Trek fanboy website. In it’s first iteration, the site read like an A-Z of visual design no-no’s (bad colour contrast, text on busy images, lurid font colours, etc), and needless to say he received some fairly fierce criticism.

Here’s the rub. It transpires that Marvin is blind, and for him the semantic structure of his site, which was actually pretty good, was far more important than the visual imperatives by which fully-sighted users judge the quality of  a website. The story highlights an important aspect of web development that is often overlooked by content editors; by employing semantic HTML and not mixing presentation (font sizes and colours, layout, etc) with content, the meaning of our content can be preserved across all types of users agents, including those employed by disabled users  to surf the web. To quote from the BBC’s Standards and Guidelines on semantic markup:

Semantic mark-up is HTML that describes the content, rather than the manner in which the content is presented. It allows the meaning to be delivered to users regardless of the browser they use, so that content can be provided to the widest possible audience.

And it’s not just about accessibility; creating content with semantic markup is also great for Search Engine Optimisation, leads to a faster surfing experience, and enhances the usability of web sites across the wider (non-disabled) audience.

For these reasons, IT Training have been working hard with Web Team and Marketing and Communications to produce a new online training module on how to write for the web for all our CMS users. The online resource, which should be ready for use within the next couple of months, will cover semantic markup in addition to other relevant topics ( legal concerns, basic Information Architecture, how users scan web pages, etc) that should help our Contributors and Editors create effective copy for the University website. We think it should make a difference.

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City, University of London is an independent member institution of the University of London. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University of London consists of 18 independent member institutions with outstanding global reputations and several prestigious central academic bodies and activities.

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