Guest Post: An Accessible Internet, The Great Equalizer

As I’ve written before, I see guest posts as an important way for me to share points of view and ideas other than my own. With that in mind, I invited web designer Erik Parkin to write a post for my blog which I’m very happy to share with you all.

A green light traffic signal imposed in front of an empty computer lab.Have you ever needed to ask for help? How did it make you feel? Frustrated? Impatient? Maybe even a little Angry? How do you feel when you do things for yourself? Happy? Competent? Proud? I was born with Cerebral Palsy. So, if there’s one thing I know, it is how to ask for help. Sometimes it does make me feel frustrated, impatient and sometimes even angry. With technology, I have reason to be optimistic. The internet lets me appreciate independence in ways I couldn’t before. It is sometimes difficult for me to get my wheelchair down store aisles. If I shop on-line that doesn’t matter. I have a speech impediment that can make long phone calls difficult, but with email and social media that doesn’t matter. I haven’t found many pot holes for a wheelchair on the internet. In fact, if I could choose one word to describe the internet, It would be “empowering”.

The internet is the most empowering tool I have encountered toward helping me gain independence. It allows me to do things for myself that I used to need help from other people to accomplish. I’ve especially noticed this with shopping websites. Using sites like Amazon, I can shop for myself, instead of asking somebody to get something off of a tall shelf, or get my money out of a wallet, or travel down aisles that are too narrow. Using the internet, I can shop by myself , talk without stammering, or just plain feel like I’m in charge of myself. I feel as if I’m on an equal playing field to everybody else. I live with a wheelchair. I constantly deal with tables that aren’t high enough, doorways that aren’t quite wide enough, and bathroom stalls that are just plain impossible to use. These daily hassles have given me a healthy appreciation for universal design.

If a website is “universally designed”, that means that anyone regardless of circumstance has an equal chance of accessing and making use of the information on the website. That can be hard. But, here are a few things you can do to make sure your site is accessible to as many people as possible.

1. Plan ahead

A website, like anything else, requires planning and forethought. Think about your goals for the website. Then design the site in such a way that you can achieve those goals in the simplest way possible. Keep your goals firmly in mind. One other thing to keep in mind, make sure your choice of media fits the message you are trying to convey. For example, if you’re writing something with no visual component do you need to use Flash?

2. Make sure your site is navigable using the keyboard

Since not everyone who browses the web can use a mouse, if you use the CSS :focus property that will help make your site navigable with the tab button.

3. Use proper alternate text

Alternate text is used to aid visually impaired folks who can’t see the pictures. So, make sure that your description allows the user to receive the same information they would learn if they could see the pictures. ((Editor’s Note: For more on alternate text, see “It’s ALT Good: Alternative Text & Accessibility.”))

4. Use proper structure

So that it makes sense with stylesheets disabled. Screen readers use headings to help users know where they are on the page. Make sure you use them in the proper order. <h1> for your biggest points on down through <h6>. ((Editor’s Note: For more on headings, see “H1: Headings are Important.”))

5. Use the label tag

Label tags can help to layout your forms using CSS. The <label> tag and the "for" attribute helps screen readers match labels to the correct form input element. If you are making a big form, use the <fieldset> and <legend> tags to organize your form by sections.

6. Test and test some more

Test with as many people as possible. They will discover things that you will miss.

Having grown up with a disability, it is easy for me to feel different. But, I’ve found that there is a trick to accepting a disability. I realize that I am responsible for my own life and happiness the same as anybody else. The internet helps me own that responsibility. If we strive to make our web pages as accessible as possible. The Internet could truly become The Great Equalizer.

About the Author

Erik Parkin received an Associate of Arts degree at Bellevue College in 2011 and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Seattle University in 2002. He lives with cerebral palsy and sees the potential of the web for helping people with disabilities gain independence and self-determination in their lives. He is able to cut through the “geek speak” and guide clients to a product that meets their needs and is consistent with their goals. You may learn more about him and contact him through his website:

Source Images: Green Light. Computer Lab.

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