By Mark Mende, Coordinator of Electronic Communications
January 16, 2002
Over the course of the last few years, the World Wide Web has gone from a place where colleges and universities presented basic information about themselves to a variety of audiences to a place where these institutions communicate back and forth with these audiences, as well as conduct transactions of sometimes crucial information. Some schools have even gone so far as to offer certain forms of communication and information solely in an on-line setting.
At the same time, the design of web pages has become increasingly more elaborate both stylistically and technologically, with the expanded use of graphics to not only enhance pages but also serve as navigational features, as well as the further use of audio, video and other higher-end technologies.
These phenomena can often be at odds with each other, and they can be especially problematic for people with certain disabilities, especially those with visual disabilities. The technology used by people with visual disabilities, most commonly known as a screen reader, interprets a web page based on the information that lies within the html, which is the programming language web pages are most often produced with. Screen readers read left to right across the screen, from top to bottom, and they can have difficulty interpreting graphical elements and most multi-media components of modern web pages, unless they are properly programmed
It is the determination of the St. Lawrence University Web Committee that, because of the university's desire to be all-inclusive, and to provide the best possible on-line experience for all users, producing and maintaining a web site that is accessible for everyone should be a goal.
Designing Accessible Web Sites
The guidelines that will be are those developed by the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative. Those guidelines can be found at www.w3.org/WAI/.
There are two main areas that people can address to make their pages accessible:
1. When using graphics for navigational features (such as buttons), provide text-only alternatives for the links, usually at the bottom of the page.
2. Use alt tags on all graphics. If the graphic is a navigational feature, describe it in the alt tag as such and say where the button leads. If the graphic serves to enhance the page visually, describe the image in the alt tag. If the graphic serves neither of these purposes, leave a blank alt tag. Alt tags can be inserted manually in the source code of your pages. Also, programs such as Dreamweaver and Composer allow you to enter an alt tag through a menu related to the placement of the graphic. Here is an example of how an alt tag looks in the source code of a web page:
<img name="prospect_box" src="http://www.stlawu.edu/images/prospect_box.gif" width="96" height="43" border="0" alt="links for prospective students">