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Getting started on accessibility: minimum requirements

Accessibility is not just something you can slap onto an existing webdesign. You must have it in mind when you lay out the page. Especially tableless design changes what is possible. Getting columns to look right can be more challenging. On the other hand you get the ability to have inline boxes that float to the left or to the right, like in a real paper magazine.

When you create your design, remember these

Do not use tables for layout

Tables existed in HTML for one reason: To display tabular data. But then border="0" made it possible for designers to have a grid upon which to lay out images and text. Those days are over as they interfere with accessibility and they make redesign very labour intensive. See WAI guidelines 5.3 and 5.4.

Use semantically correct markup

If it looks like a heading on the page, it must be coded with a <h?> tag. If it looks like a list, then it must be coded with the <ul>, <ol> or <dl> tags. Menus can be coded as <ul> by turning off the bullet in CSS. Even tabs can be coded as lists.

When you italize something, is that because you want to emphasize it, <em>, or because it’s the title of a book, <cite>. If it is just to make it look good, then do it with CSS in the central stylesheet. It makes it a lot easier to maintain. If you want a linebreak after something, chances are it should be marked up as a heading element. If you want two linebreaks after something, chances are there are two paragraphs. Then use the <p> tag.

Do not use spacer gifs

Learn CSS; use padding, margin and float to place your elements.

Create documents that validate to published formal grammars

Put a DOCTYPE in the top and validate your HTML with the W3C Markup Validation Service. It is your assurance that you are using constructions that will work on all webbrowsers. Webbrowsers such as Internet Explorer contain two parsers. One, called quirks mode, is compatible with the rendering conventions of the 1990ies. The other, called standards mode, follows modern standards, and thus IE, Firefox and the others render pages almost identically in standards mode. It is called the doctype switch. See WAI guideline 3.2.

Don't open new windows

Changing the current window or popping up new windows can be very disorienting to users who cannot see that this has happened.

If you absolutely must open a link in a new window, explicitly warn the user with a clear indication that the page will open in a different window. E.g. Provide a title attribute on the anchor tag with a description indicating that the link opens a new window.