Part Two
Consider Accessibility

© 2001 by Walt Howe
(last revised 6 February 2010)
Your decisions on your target audience can have a major impact on your design. If you are writing for a very limited audience, for example, only those with the latest equipment and software, you can use features you would avoid otherwise. But if you want to be accessible to all, here are some things to consider:
  • Graphics. Make your graphics as small in filesize and as fast loading as you can. Then your page is accessible to those with slow modems. See the articles How to Create Small, Fast Loading Graphics for Web Pages and How to Lose Your Web Viewers for a lot more help with this. Use graphics for a purpose. Graphics should inform, help understanding and navigation, entertain, or attract attention. But don't use graphics just for the sake of using graphics. Use them for a purpose, and always realize that they are the slowest loading part of your page. ALWAYS use height and width tags with a graphic, since it speeds loading of the page. The rules for the use of graphics on the web are very different from those for print media!

  • Image maps. Avoid image maps--or at least provide parallel menu selections. If you use an image map without a parallel menu, those who cannot see the graphics are stuck and can proceed no further.

  • Java and JavaScript. Think long and hard before using Java and JavaScript or provide alternatives. Otherwise only those with the latest browsers will be able to make use of them. There are differences in implementation of Java and JavaScript between different browsers and their different versions. If you do use them, test them with all browsers, and think about how users whose browsers do not support them will be limited. Provide alternatives. If you have time to write both a Java and a non-Java version of your pages, provide both. With appropriate software, you can detect what browser a person is using and automatically route them to the right version of your page--if you have the time and know-how to do it.

  • Plug-ins. Think twice before using anything that requires plug-ins, such as ShockWave or QuickTime video. Sure, you can use them, if it just a side feature, not a vital part of your content. Most people will not have the plug-ins and will not take the time to download them. Be careful you don't turn off the people who do not have them.

  • Browser unique features. Don't use features that are only supported by one browser unless you can create an equivalent method for other browsers. Before the version 4.0 browsers, if you wanted to automatically play a sound file, you had to use the EMBED tag for Netscape and the BGSOUND tag for MSIE. That problem has been solved except for those with older browsers, but new problems develop with each new version of the browsers. As mentioned above, compatibility between versions of Java and JavaScript for the two major browsers is not very good.

  • Frames. Think very carefully before using frames. There are still a lot of older browsers around which do not support them. The contents of frames are usually not indexed by search engines, too. Provide alternatives, if you can. The major advantage of frames is in keeping navigation menus in sight at all times. A good alternative to frames is to keep your pages short and provide for navigation at both top and bottom of the page.

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