Designing websites that are open to all

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 December, 2011, 12:00am


The internet has become an integral part of our daily life. For people with disabilities, it is an enabler that allows quick and easy access to information and online services, and a tool that helps them live a more independent life.

Nonetheless, many websites neglect their needs. People with disabilities have to spend more time and effort to obtain the information they need. For instance, visually impaired people rely on screen readers to access web content, but they are unable to decipher images. People with hearing impairment cannot understand audio-only and video content without subtitles.

Web accessibility design enables everybody, irrespective of age and physical constraints, to access the same content. To make a website accessible to all is neither difficult nor costly. It can easily be achieved by taking into account the needs of people with disabilities. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines issued by the World Wide Web Consortium have set out some clear design principles and good practices:

font sizes should be adjustable so the elderly and people with low vision can choose a size that suits;

content should be organised logically and systematically;

photos and videos should be supplemented with text descriptions to enable reading by screen readers;

audio-visual content should carry subtitles;

webpages should be keyboard-operable as visually impaired people cannot use a mouse;

webpages should be operated by buttons instead of sliders, which can be challenging for the physically disabled.

The government is mounting a campaign to promote awareness of the need to make websites accessible, and encourage businesses and organisations to adopt accessible web designs.

Since 1999, the government has developed accessibility guidelines for government websites based on the World Wide Web Consortium guidelines. Now, most government websites comply with the key requirements; all will be required to do so by all practicable means by 2013.

To encourage private-sector organisations to adopt these designs, we have compiled a management handbook and set up a website to provide information and resources. We have also organised seminars. Responses have been encouraging. Organisations that make their websites user-friendly for all also stand to benefit from an enhanced corporate image and wider customer reach.

With accessible web design, people with disabilities will be able to enjoy the same benefits as others. Let's work together to build a more inclusive and caring society.

Stephen Mak Hung-sung is the government chief information officer