Universal Access - Accessibility (Icon)An issue which is often in the back of my mind, but often not even on the radar of a lot of Catholic web developers (I know this from experience) is online accessibility. Many new/remodeled Catholic Churches have hundreds of new technologies in place to help those with disabilities—wheelchair ramps, wider aisles, larger bathrooms, elevators... and many of these innovations cost a pretty penny.

Shouldn't we develop our websites with the same amount of care for disabled persons' unique set of abilities?

Much time during the design of the current archstl.org website was spent on WCAG 2 and Section 508 compliance, and the web development platform we have chosen (Drupal) goes a long way towards helping in this regard (in fact, Drupal 7 will be almost completely WCAG 2.0 compliant from the start!).

The archstl.org website passes the WCAG 2.0 checklist with only a few minor suggestions (but none that will cause much hassle for users with disabilities). Check it at http://achecker.ca/checker/index.php.

I also try to have 'real-world' persons with visual impairment test my designs, to make sure they can easily:

  1. Browse the website
  2. Search the website
  3. Hear/see the information on the page they'd like to hear or see
  4. Know what images are on the page, even if they can't see them

One of the biggest struggles I have in the Archdiocese is helping other people realize the importance of having an accessible website—most especially in terms of adding 'alt' tags to images and forming links properly.

The three largest issues faced in accessibility for web developers are:

  1. Having a solid theme/template for your website that enforces WCAG/508 guidelines on a high level.
  2. Educating your content managers on using alt tags properly, understanding text-based browsing, etc.
  3. Knowing your audience—if you have persons with disabilities using your website, you should ask them for feedback, and involve them in design testing.

Let's do all we can to be inclusive of all those using our websites. There are times when it may be outside the constraints of your budget... but you should, at a minimum, try to make your site browsable by persons with disabilities!

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