A Little Accessibility Guide to Device Independence

When asking people about web accessibility and device independence, many will say its about giving keyboard access. However, its a little more then that. Here we will help you understand more about this accessibility term.

What is Device Independence?

A device can be anything that gives someone a way to use your website. This includes regular desktop computers, touch screen tablets or smart phones, games consoles and internet ready TVs. It also includes assistive technology like voice activation, eye trackers and other specialist keyboards, Braille keyboards and displays, screen readers and magnifiers. So to be really device independent, your website will need to work across all of these different kinds of internet ready products.

Plus you have to understand how people use these different internet devices to be able to develop your website in a way that will not prevent or make difficult for anyone using their internet product of choice.

Cross Browser Support

One of the first steps towards device independence would be making your website work equally well in all the popular browsers. This task is an on-going challenge as new browser updates are released and peoples choice changes. It is worth noting assistive technology is often behind and may not support the latest browser versions.

There are some best practices that can help you like following the W3C code standards, progressive enhanced design or graceful degradation and separating style from content. These all relate to web development and unless you develop your own website, will be the responsibility of the developers you use.

If you hire someone to build your website, you can ask them about browser support, if the use progressive enhanced design or separate style from content.

If you’d like to read more about progressive enhancement and graceful degradation, take a look at the article Graceful degradation versus progressive enhancement on the W3C WIKI.

Responsive Design

This is another developer term given to the design concept of allowing the page layout to flow to best suit the display it is being viewed on. Developers and designers use various techniques from scaling images and adjusting the number of columns to showing or hiding content to give a better experience for people no matter if they are using a small mobile phone or slightly larger tablet or the latest wide screen HD TV.

Again for many of us, this responsibility will be with who ever we hire to design and develop our website. Although having a basic understanding, allows us to ask our developer, have they included responsive design.

Assistive Technology and How People use It

This is one of the more difficult areas to address as most web developers will have little or no experience of specialist assistive technology. There are some guidelines in WCAG2.0 designed to help developers but often without knowing how people use these assistive technologies, it is difficult to get it right.

Some developers will hire accessibility specialists to help them through this process. By working with their designers and developers, performing many tests and following the accessibility advice given. They can produce much more accessible websites.

One point to remember is that it is often much easier and costs less, if accessibility specialists are involved from the beginning of a website project. As this can prevent the need to retro-fix issues and instead help designers and developers build accessibly from the ground up.

There are many different types of assistive technology and people may use them in different ways, on different devices. I have listed a few popular technologies below and my next article will start going through these in more detail.

  • Screen Readers or otherwise known as TTS (Text To Speech)
  • Screen Magnifiers or specialised monitors and stands
  • Braille Keyboards and Displays, sometimes referred to as refreshable Braille
  • Eye trackers, clickers and other specialist keyboards that are designed to help people with very limited mobility
  • Colour contrast software, often to help people with dyslexia
  • Touch screens, now commonly found in mainstream products, often used for people with coordination difficulties
  • Voice activation sometimes called dictation software

Have Your Say

  • Have you ever heard of the term device independence before?
  • Have you thought about device independence in this way before?

I would love to hear your views on device independence and your thoughts on my explanation of this accessibility subject.

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