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Book Review: Web Accessibility - Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance

September 21, 2007 15:37 by Andrew Westgarth

One of the areas of Web Development and provisioning for the web that is of great interest to me is Accessibility and access to the same information across multiple technologies, devices and user capabilities.  This originally stems from research I undertook whilst completing my final year project for my degree at the University of Sunderland, but now has become of interest when developing solutions for the web in my daily career and life.

Earlier this year at WebDD, I had the great pleasure of attending Bruce Lawson's session, entitled "Web Accessibility: What, Why, How and Who Cares" and I recommend anyone who gets the opportunity to listen to this presentation by Bruce to do so.  I have been aware of a number of web standards and guidance relating how to build accessible sites and the whole subject of Accessibility for a while and still found some great information I can use to express to others why it is so important.  Indeed the key example I remember Bruce telling me was of a blind friend, who because of Tesco's Accessible Online Shopping System, was able to purchase a birthday present for her husband for the first time, and the joy of being able to have that great user experience. 

Whilst at this session, Bruce highlighted a book on which he was a Technical Reviewer, Web Accessibility: Web Standard and Regulatory Compliance published by friends of Ed.  We recently purchased a copy of this book at work, and I have just completed reading it for the first time and thought it was important to let you all know what a great resource and excellent addition to any Web Developers Library it is.  In the past and in my research at University I found it difficult to find good books on the subject and indeed still do.

This book is structured with chapters by leading experts in the individual fields, there are seventeen chapters in total, covering three distinct sections - "The Impact of Web Accessibility"; "Implementing Accessible Websites" and "Accessibility Law and Policy".  Each chapter concentrates on a specific area and gives and overview and clear examples to back up statements and arguments.  The book gives a great grounding to anyone who has questions about what accessibility it is, what it represents and how it can be implemented.

The large section on implementing accessible websites covers multiple pertinent issues which Web Developers, Architects and Designer face daily.  Covering content, navigation, data input, CSS, JavaScript, Flash, PDF each chapter raises issues with certain methods used by many with good clear examples of how to go from an inaccessible solution to a good accessible solution, and where there are a number of solutions gives clear arguments for an against each method.  There is also sections on automated testing, and retrofitting a website to be more accessible.  These are situations I have had to deal with heavily after working in the Public Sector for a period of time.  Often retrofitting a website can be increasingly frustrating and time consuming, but it can also be very rewarding to see the end results.  Automated machine testing is possible for certain sections of the standards guidance however it can never be the answer for all testing, this is highlighted and a selection of tests are critiqued and reasoned as to whether they are suitable for automated testing.  The book also covers an introduction to WCAG 2.0 and guidance on how to start understanding the changes that have been made.

A lot of concepts and ideas which I had gained were challenged by this book and it was very refreshing to find that I was completely engaged by it and couldn't put it down when I had the chance to read a little bit more.  I am involved in a project at present to provision multiple sites for publication in multiple countries and languages and part of the reasoning for purchasing this book was to complement my knowledge and raise that of my colleagues and employer.  The sections on implications and legal requirements gives a great entry point and overview, with links to further information, on how accessibility is treated by individual nations and governments, a great starting point in my work.

Overall this book represents excellent value for money, Computer Manuals are currently selling it for ?25.49!!!, and it is certainly a book I will be ordering another copy of for my personal library.  I recommend anyone involved in provisioning services, content, sites and applications for the web read it and take in the messages and guidance offered.


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