Making Web Sites Accessible to All
If there's one thing that makes the practice of getting a page to look good in Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator trivial, it's the whole concept of designing pages that can be read on any device, by any person. Accessibility is a big issuebut need not be a big nightmare. The concept of web accessibility is just to construct pages that can be understood by a visitor using any sort of web-enabled device and any sort of web browser.
Dreamweaver MX has introduced a whole load of new features to help you accomplish this goal without too much trouble. Unfortunately, they hid them away a bit, so the first thing to do is go and switch all the accessibility features on.
Open the preferences (Edit > Preferences) and you'll find a new Accessibility tab. On the Accessibility tab, you can find a selection of checkboxes labeled Show Attributes When Inserting. It is here that you select the elements for which you want to be prompted to enter details to aid the accessibility of your page. I usually check all of these boxes so that I can make a conscious decision to ignore them when appropriate. I find it's safer to do it that way, because by default I should usually be making pages accessible whenever possible.
Section 508 is a piece of U.S. legislation that dictates (among other things) that all federally funded web sites should be fully accessible to all, including those with disabilities. At the time of writing, the U.S. government does not fund most of us, and so we have no legal requirement to make our sites accessible. However, I don't think it'll be too long before this is stepped up to cover a wider range of people, and aside from the legal requirements, surely we have moral requirements to make our sites accessible to everyone? Ask any company that has received bad press for not having wheelchair access to their facilities, and they will tell you of the implications of not fully catering for those who equally deserve to be catered for.
Case Study: Sydney Olympics
Legislation against organizations for not providing accessible web sites is known. The highest profile case was against the Sydney Olympics.
"In Australia in June 1999, Bruce Maguire lodged a complaint with the Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) under a law called the Disability Discrimination Act. His complaint concerned the Web site of the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG), which Maguire alleged was inaccessible to him as a blind person.
"According to the complaint, Maguire, unlike most blind people online, does not use a screen reader to read aloud the elements of a Web page. Instead, he uses a refreshable Braille display. But neither technology can understand and turn into voice an image that lacks a text equivalent. Nearly all Web pages online have some kind of graphics, including high-profile sites like those associated with major sporting events.
"Maguire contended that significant parts of the SOCOG Web site, Olympics.com, were inaccessible to him.
"On 24 August 2000, the HREOC released its decision and supported Maguire's complaint, ordering certain access provisions to be in place on the Olympics.com site by 15 September 2000. SOCOG ignored the ruling and was subsequently fined A$20,000." (Source: Reader's Guide to Sydney Olympics Accessibility Complaint, http://www.contenu.nu/socog.html)
The implications of this case are tremendous. The precedent has now been set, thus making it easier for disabled web site visitors such as Bruce Maguire to take legal action to get the access to the web that they rightfully deserve.