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Web Accessibility

Imagine for a minute that you were blind, couldn't hear, or had any other ailments that made browsing the web difficult. Because the Internet has become an integral part of our daily lives, how frustrating would it be to not be able to experience your favourite web sites because they weren't build to accommodate your disability? Now imaging that you weren't blind, or deaf, but had poor eye sight, or hearing problems - or maybe you have arthritis and using a mouse can be difficult for you, or you just aren't that skilled with computers? Accessibility affects everyone that visits your site and if you had any difficulty accessing the content on a web site you would probably just leave and go somewhere else, specifically to a competing web site that was enabled for you to experience the site regardless of your abilities.

The US government has passed a law that forces all government web sites to follow a certain set of guidelines to allow for any user to access web site content regardless of their ability or disability. More information can be found here on those guidelines, but we are well aware of them, and even though you may not be located in the United States, having a web site that follows these guidelines can literally make or break your web site when it comes to some users being able to contact you. Another set of guidelines were developed by the W3C (Worldwide Web Consortium) on accessibility that help web developers make their web sites accessible to all users, and we're fully aware and familiar with them as well.

Why Does It Matter To You?

Accessibility issues should matter to everybody, even if your customers don't have any disabilities, or any difficulty in using computers because following these guidelines makes your web site easier for all people to access it. For example, some of the guidelines are just good design practice like having unique styles for links across your web site, or clearly identifying headings and subheadings with the correct HTML tags - this not only helps people with screen readers access your site, but it makes it easier for everyone to find links within your content, and for search engines to index and rank your web site. Sometimes, the web browser, or speed and capability of the computer the user is using is hindering their capability of experiencing your web site – you want as many people as possible to view your site, and be able to view your site no matter what browser they use, what operating system they use like Windows, Macintosh, or Linux, and whether they have dial-up or high-speed Internet access.

A good example is sound, and web browser plugins like flash. Some users may not have speakers with their computers and therefore not be able to experience the orchestra you have playing on your web site, or the audio of the news cast or movie playing on your web site. In this case alternate content such as text-based scripts of the content allow search engines, and users with sound turned off or disabled to still enjoy your web site. Some users may not have flash installed on their computer - in which case having some sort of alternate content is imperative for them to experience your web site. Although these strategies may only really affect a small percentage of the population, if you can make the user experience for a few of these visitors excel far beyond your competition, then you'll have site visitors and customers for a long time.

Web Standards

Net Shift Media builds web sites that conform to the W3C's HTML and CSS standards, meaning your web site will be interpreted and displayed seamlessly across multiple platforms, browsers, and devices. You should never have to create a separate web site in order to make it available on various browsers, a smart phone, video game console, or other Internet-enabled device. Rather, your web site should be able to detect the device being used to access your web site and then show your content accordingly.

With the exponential growth of smart phones, and Internet-enabled mobile devices this becomes a much more crucial issue. Rather than reverting back to the days of 1994 when you had to have two completely different web sites built in order to satisfy the various browser your visitor was using, with today's web technologies, you should not have to build a separate web site just for smart phones, iPhones, or other Internet-enabled devices.

Progressive Enhancement and Separation of Content and Design

This objective is achieved by separating your content from your design, and then applying design and functionality to your web site as available based on the web browser being used. For example, the most basic web browser, a text-based screen reader, will only view the plain text of your web site, while a modern web browser like Firefox, Safari, Chrome, or Internet Explorer will add a design layout and style your content to provide a visual experience to your visitors.

This technique is called "Progressive Enhancement" and it allows us to build you a single site that adapts to the capabilities of your web browser to maximize the way your visitors access your web site.

There are always exceptions to rules, and in some cases, your strategy may be to only provide a small subset of your web content to users on mobile devices, rather than providing everything.

Other Benefits

Other benefits of using web standards is that your web site will download and display faster (so there is less waiting on the user's end while trying to access your web site) the code is reusable when redesigning the layout of the site, and we ensure that the web site is scalable for future expansion. Unnecessary code is stripped from your web site to make for smaller file sizes, and much more efficiency when being indexed by search engines, leading to better rankings and increased traffic from search engines.

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