Building the accessible web

As a web developer for a relatively large company that provide basic societal services with a wide ranged target group, accessibility has always interested me. I’ve been to a few workshops regarding web accessibility and I try to, at least to a lesser degree, make our web sites accessible to visitors using various types of accessibility tools like screen readers and so on.

Creating accessible web sites isn’t that hard as long as they are static. But the web isn’t static any more! As the web technology evolves we tend to make more dynamic web sites that are becoming more and more state full than the old and boring state less web. We do this with the help of JavaScript and AJAX to update a part or section of the page if the user clicks this or that button or what ever. And this makes it way harder to create accessible web sites for visitors not using a mouse to navigate or who can’t see the actual page.

But as the “regular” web technology evolves with HTML5 and such, so does the accessibility part of the web as well. I just stumbled upon this great talk from Google IO 2011, and I think this is something that every web developer who likes to call her or him self a web developer should see. At least I know what I will do the next couple of weeks! With some really small efforts we can make the web much more accessible for people with various impairities.

And I encourage every web developer to follow the Google Developer Channel at Youtube. There’s a lot of good stuff there!

Useful 404 page

I read an article on A List Apart about creating “A More Useful 404”. I also think that it’s important to give better feedback to the visitor who ends up on a missing page. But I think that the customized 404 page should differ remarkably from the original site layout so that there’s no doubt about you’ve ended up on a “missing” page. I’ve seen 404 pages that are impossible to tell apart from the site and it can take quite some time before you realize you’ve reached a dead end.

I’ve used a customized 404 page on our sites at work almost since day one. The feedback to the visitor can be better but I have an email function – like suggested in the article at A List Apart – that sends an email to me, telling which URL the visitor tried to access and which URL the visitor came from, when someone reaches a missing page from a link, internal or external.

And I must say that this function is really, really helpful. If the broken link is on another site I usually send them an email notifying them about the problem and giving them the correct link – sometimes you just need to re-structure your site, even though it should be avoided when possible – and mostly they appreciate it and alter their link immediately. Also, when re-structuring, it’s easy to miss a few of your own internal links and with the little email notification the problem can be fixed right away.

In Roxen (the CMS we use at work) terms, all that needs to be done is adding this little snippet to the 404 page template in the administration site, under the “settings” tab for the site in question.

6 lines of RoXen Macro Language
  1. <email to=“” subject=“Error 404”>
  2. Requested URL: &page.virtfile;
  3. Referring URL: &client.referrer;
  4. UA: &client.fullname;
  5. </email>