Books, Sites, and Guidelines on Accessible Web Design
What Is On This Page
If you need a gentle, no-nonsense, up-to-date book teaching HTML and CSS with full awareness of web standards, the WAC highly recommends the clear and well-paced Spring Into HTML and CSS by Molly Holzschlag (Addison-Wesley, 2005).
As with the books, our selection of sites and centers is not meant to be comprehensive. Instead, we have tried to choose resources that will aid and inspire web developers. And since accessibility might be considered usability for people with disability, it made sense to include a couple of resources focusing on usability.
The guidelines and guides listing covers the expected standards and some perhaps not so expected development guidelines. We also include a reference to a list of higher education institution accessibility standards and statements.
Sarah Horton, Access by Design: A Guide to Universal Usability for Web Designers (Peachpit Press, July 2005)
A great short book that, like WCAG 2.0, emphasizes design principles over checkpoints. As in the best books on accessibility, usable design is foregrounded. Horton advocates a gestalt of usability and accessibility she terms "universal usability". Contains a ton of good examples from real web sites. Horton has created a full-text online version of Access by Design, complete with illustrations, code examples, and secondary sources.
Shawn Lawton Henry, Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design (Lulu.com, 2007)
By Shawn Henry of the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), Just Ask is available online or in print. The book concentrates on ways to include accessibility throughout the entire design process and has very valuable information on evaluation of resources, usability testing with people with disabilities, and even hiring developers.
Andrew Kirkpatrick, Jim Thatcher, Richard Rutter, Cynthia Waddell, Christian Heilmann, Bruce Lawson, and other contributors, Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance (Friends of Ed, 2006)
Joe Clark, Building Accessible Web Sites (New Riders, 2003)
Clark was one of the key people involved in advocating video captioning in mainstream media. Ranging through page structure and layout, font choices, use of images, and multimedia, with a nice chapter on law, Clark's advice is clear, informed, and has the ring of being definitive.
John Slatin and Sharron Rush, intro by Jacob Nielsen, Maximum Accessibility: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone (Addison-Wesley, 2002)
The first part of the book attempts to layout a working definition of accessibility, discussing goverment and public guidelines, law, and policy (Slatin is an editor of WCAG 2.0). The section contains a number of enlightening case studies. The second part of the book focuses on ways to design within guidelines layed out in the first part of the book. It looks at how to write good text alternatives for images and for captioning of multimedia, how to author accessible HTML forms and tables, and how to make PDF accessible. It also discusses the levels of accessibility in various media players and plugins. Some of this latter information is partly out of date, as is the section on CSS. But book is still an excellent reference.
Jim Thatcher, et al. Constructing Accessible Web Sites (Peer Information Inc., 2002)
One of the first books on the subject of accessible web design. Still an excellent resource, with chapters by experts covering law, design tools, current and emerging technologies, in addition to solid code examples.
37Signals, Defensive Design for the Web: How to Improve Error Messages, Help, Forms, and other Crisis Points (New Riders, 2004)
Usability and accessibility often implode dramatically when they are needed most: in filling out forms, in displaying page error messages, and in providing search capabilities. 37signals' book provides cogent annotated examples of poor and solid solutions to these and other typical crisis points, drawn from years of design experience.
Steve Krug, Dont Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (New Riders, 2006, Second Edition)
Highly concise and approachable book on usability with a terrific short chapter on accessibility, containing one of the most rational and salable approaches to the topic. Those of us obsessed with accessibility often propose that making a site more accessible will necessarily make it more usable. Though often true, this is not always the case. Alternatively, Krug advises that making sites more usable for the rest of us is one of the most effective ways to make them more effective for people with disabilities.
Dan Cederholm, Web Standards Solutions: The Markup and Style Handbook (Apress, 2004)
Practical examples dovetailing standard markup and CSS with incisive commentaries on when and how to use stylesheets and appropriate uses of HTML to improve accessibility and usability.
Dan Cederholm, Bulletproof Web Design: Improving Flexibility and Protecting Against Worst-Case Scenarios with XHTML and CSS (New Riders, 2006)
Solid solutions for a range of common design techniques, including fluid and multi-column CSS-based layouts, scalable and elegant site navigation, and use of the CSS
float property page-level layout.
Jeffrey Zeldman, Designing with Web Standards (New Riders, 2003)
Occasionally idiosyncratic but undeniably important, solid, future-directed advice from one of the major advocates of web standards.
Eric Meyer on CSS (New Riders, 2002) and More Eric Meyer on CSS (New Riders, 2004)
Meyer's books are a terrific advanced introduction to the potential of CSS for the implementation of accessible, usable, and elegant web design.
Sites and Centers
- Web Accessibility in Mind (WebAIM)
Current developers of one of the best accessibility checkers (WAVE), WebAIM is a project begun at Utah State University's Center for Persons with Disabilities but has become one stop shopping for everything regarding web accessibility—design, training, advocacy, et cetera. WebAIM has one of the most clearly written, usable, and extensive sets of accessibility-centered tutorials on the web.
- Skills for Access
Contains tutorials and commissioned articles on web based media of all sorts written by e-learning and accessible multimedia experts. It also has a number of case studies of people and projects, surveying projects developed with accessibility in mind and examining first-hand the ways disabled people use multimedia.
- Dive Into Accessibility
Mark Pilgrim's accessibility site presents use case studies of users with disabilities and organizes tips by design principle, disability, publishing tool, and web browser.
- Simply Accessible
Derek Featherstone's site, started after Web Essentials '05, contains tips on coding for accessibility, moving toward best practices, that are intelligent and unique. See also the accessibility section of Featherstone's blog.
- Access Matters
Bob Easton's blog focusing on best practices for web accessibility. Test cases and "quizzes" examine established and cutting-edge techniques and results are published to move toward best practices.
- Juicy Studio
Gez Lemon's terrific site focused on accessible web design. Under Quality Assurance find a color contrast analyzer; a complex table analysis tool which looks for scope, header, and other accessibility attributes in tables; and a readability test which performs Flesch-Kincaid and Gunning-Fog analyses. Lemon also made the Firefox Table Inspector extension. Lemon's tests of Ajax/DHTML with screen readers provide solid information and guidance if you are considering incorporating such techniques into your web projects.
- Web Accessibility for All
Tutorials and examples, excellent print resources, video interviews, and pointers to other resources all geared toward helping organizations build capacity for creating and maintaining accessibility in production of electronic materials.
Tools and wizards for content creation and a number of good articles and links. Also a good place to keep up on the latest accessibility news.
Showcases visually compelling accessible and highly usable, CSS-driven, standards-based web sites. Accessites.org also blogs on accessibility news and has occassional articles with a focus on high usability. (CSS Zen Garden also inspires with CSS-based designs, though its focus is purely on creativity.)
- Web Usability
Russ Weakley (of css.maxdesign.com.au and the Web Standards Group) and Roger Hudson's site, set up for Hudson's business in Australia, contains case studies and articles on accessibility and usability. The site's case study reports and presentations work toward establishing best practices and are typically accompanied by code examples.
- A List Apart
A List Apart is one of the best sites for standards based web design. Link above points to their topics page for articles on accessibility. Read articles by Joe Clark, Andy Clarke, James Edwards, Derek Featherstone, Jeffrey Zeldman, Trenton Moss, and others.
Sitepoint, one of the most active and intelligent sites on web development, has a number of good articles on accessibility.
Founded by Trenton Moss. British organization focused on usability, accessibility, and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Link above goes to their accessibility section. See their article on why automated checkers aren't enough to ensure accessibility.
- Royal National Institute for the Blind Web Access Centre
Articles, case studies focusing on how businesses designed or retooled sites for accessibility, guidelines on site design, and information on laws and standards in the UK.
- The Web Standards Project
- Illinois Center for Instructional Technology Accessibility (iCITA)
iCITA at the University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign makes the Accessible Web Publishing Wizard for MS Office and an accessibility extension for the Firefox browser, but also has solid best practices information. Their Functional Accessibility Evaluator (FAE) is currently under development and can be considered one of the first "second-generation" checkers, tools that provide automated analysis of web page structure and degree of functional accessibility as opposed to mere "checkpoint" reports.
Web Accessibility Testing and Services, a Canadian consultancy that maintains many good resources. See especially the "Resources" and "Articles" sections.
Usability expert Jacob Nielsen's platform. Nielsen is one of the gurus of web usability and owner and maintainer of one of the ugliest usable sites on the web. Despite lacking any design panache, Nielsen houses many articles on accessibility, going back more than ten years. Consider subscribing to the Alert Box newsletter. Note that the key to finding articles on useit is the search feature. For a brilliant, standards-compliant and accessible redesign effort, see the Design Eye for the Usability Guy by Design By Fire.
- UI Access
Accessibility-focused web site of usability expert and W3C consultant Shawn Lawton Henry.
Web Accessibility portal site linking to more than 500 sites, groups, companies, organization, tools, and news resources on accessibility.
Guidelines and Guides
- OSU Web Accessibility Policy
Implemented June 30, 2004, contains OSU's Minimum Web Accessibility Standards (MWAS). There is also WAC material on MWAS.
- W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Version 1.0 (WCAG 1.0)
The current World Wide Web Consortium recommendation.
- W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Version 2.0 (WCAG 2.0)
These guidelines move away from laying down rules and toward general principles, an approach that some have found problematic. The new guidelines state that web sites should be "POUR": Content must be Perceivable, all interfaces must be Operable, content and controls must be Understandable, and coding and technologies used must be Robust in order to accommodate current display technologies with an eye toward forward-compatibility. Shawn Lawton Henry has presentation on WCAG 2.0 that covers differences from version 1.0. She recommends the WCAG 2.0 Quick Reference as a good place to start with 2.0.
- Section 508
Covers all parts of the redraft of the Federal Rehabilitation Act that introduced requirements for electronic media. Section 1194.22 of US 508 applies to web sites and web-based applications.
- iCITA Web Accessibility Best Practices
The Illinois Center for Instructional Technology Accessibility has put together an excellent guide to web best practices that emphasizes functional accessibility. Often web sites are repaired to meet technical specifications that are supposed to make them more accessible. The reality is that such technical repair may do little to make web sites functionally usable to people with disabilities. iCITA's best practices guide focuses on functional accessibility and gives numerous explanations and code samples.
- Side by Side, 508 and WCAG 2.0
Jim Thatcher's comparison of US 508 and WCAG 2.0 with a link back to his original work comparing 508 with WCAG 1.0
- Disability Discrimination Act information from Webcredible
The UK enacted the section of the DDA covering accessible web sites in 1999 and Australia has a similar piece of legislation. Unlike the US 508 guidelines, private as well as public organizations must conform to the provisions of the Act. It is likely similar law will be enacted in the US in the next few years, perhaps as amendments to Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act. A UIAccess article surveys US legal activities on web accessibility.
- W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)
An excellent resource for high-level overviews of several areas impacting accessibility, including evaluating and managing accessibility within a business or organization. The sections under "Managing Accessibility" will be of interest to web managers and developers. See especially the sub-section on developing a business case for accessibility.
- Guidelines for Accessible and Usable Web Sites: Observing Users Who Work With Screen Readers by Mary Theofanos and Janice Redish, reprinted with permission from the ACM journal Interactions, November-December 2003
Usability study of blind users accessing a number of web pages, filling out forms and performing set tasks via screen readers (JAWS and Window-Eyes). Article contains analysis of the observations and a series of guidelines for developers. Some of the other sites on this page contain case studies, as well, but this article gives a good overview of what access is like for people reliant on screen readers.
- Web Style Guide
Co-authored by Sarah Horton, whose book Access by Design is referenced at the top of this page, the Web Style Guide used to be the Yale Web Style Guide, but however one refers to it there is little doubt that it is one of the most comprehensive guides available. Sections cover site, interface, and page-level design, typography, multimedia, graphics, and editorial style. Most sections of the online book contain discussions of accessibility.
- FAME (Faculty and Administrator Modules in Higher Education)
Users can browse or work sequentially through units covering web accessibility, universal design in learning environments, faculty and teaching staff rights and responsibilities to students with disabilities, and overcoming literacy challenges. Learning modules are geared toward teachers and administrators. Multi-modal presentation throughout—HTML, video with audio and transcript.
- Research-Based Web Design and Usability Guides
US Department of Health and Human Services guidelines for authoring of web pages. Includes commentaries on accessibility, navigation, and writing, among many other topics. All of these guidelines are available in their full versions only in PDF, but an older, less complete, HTML version of the guidelines is still available and provides much useful and succinct information. These guidelines are each rated by researched evidence of their effectiveness. They are geared toward research-focused web sites, but the principles they promote are universally applicable in almost all cases.
- Links to Some Quick Tips Pages
- Accessible Design Statements and Standards
List maintained by the University of Washington of standards and centers affiliated with US higher education institutions and state governments.