"The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect."
-- Tim Berners-Lee, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Director and inventor of the World Wide Web
Creators of TESL/TEFL resources have welcomed and embraced access to an international audience afforded by the World Wide Web. However, with the availability of a global audience comes the responsibility of taking into account the abilities and special needs of all communities. While the ESL/EFL community has a history of being sensitive to linguistic needs, we now need to expand our reach to learners and users with visual, auditory, physical and cognitive disabilities that make certain aspects of the web inaccessible to them.
Recent advances in HTML standards and guidelines made available by the W3C under the rubric of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) are a large step in the right direction. Much in the way that closed-captioning brings access of television and video programming to the hearing impaired (and ESL learners), the W3C guidelines allow web designers to ensure that their materials are accessible by the widest possible audience.
The complete listing of W3C/WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are available at http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG/. The following is a brief explanation of a few of the main items:
Other W3C/WAI Accessibility Guidelines not mentioned in this brief overview offer suggestions on how to treat accessibility issues that arise with the use of image maps, page layout and organization, frames and other such technical issues that typically confront web page designers.
The advantage of writing valid and accessible HTML is that you can be sure that your content will display consistently across browser and platform type and that all users will have equal access to your content. This seems like a reasonable and obvious goal. Unfortunately, the major authoring tools used by web designers don't build in easy support for creating accessible websites. Upcoming standards made possible by advances in XML technology should improve the situation drastically.
Here are some additional resources on issues of accessibility:
The Web Accessibility Initiative Home Page
List of Checkpoints for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0
Accessible Web Authoring Resources and Education (AWARE) center from the HTML Writers Guild
Articles and resources on ethical and legal requirements
WebABLE! is a comprehensive site for disability-related internet resources.
Additionally, there is an excellent article written by Molly E. Holzschlag on accessible web design in the December '99 issue of Web Techniques, "Web Accessibility with HTML 4.0." It is found online at: http://www.webtechniques.com/archives/1999/12/desi/.
| © Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.
Editor's Note: Dashed numbers in square brackets indicate the end of each page for purposes of citation.