Accessibility, it’s in a KIS

"It’s in a KIS?" you ask and I say "yes". KIS (Keep It Simple), is a phrase often over looked in today’s world of high tech web2.0 with social media, streaming and new frameworks that seem to be coming out every day!

How can we follow the principle of KIS?

In today’s high tech and rapid development of rich multi-media websites, the first basic principle is forgotten. This is all web pages are built on HTML. Everything else is added on.

Ideally you want to aim to achieve that all your web content and basic functionality will work in plain HTML. This does not include any styling or dynamic activity but should be enough to convey your message and allow some basic functionality like navigation and communication via forms.

Progressive enhanced design

Progressive enhancement is where you check for support of a feature before using it. For example a Flash video, you may place a static image and transcript of the video inside your HTML then check if the browser will support Flash. If it does, you can then replace the static image and transcript with the Flash video and a link to the transcript. This way you are offering the most basic type of content first and only if the technology used allows for it, you show the enhanced content but also still offering the basic content for people who may find it easier.

Many developers when using progressive enhanced design, forget to give people the option of choosing the less enhanced content. So taking the previous example of a Flash video, without adding the link to the transcript, you may be preventing people from accessing your content just because their browser supports Flash. The point is to use progressive enhancement to empower people with a choice and not leave that choice up to their browsers capabilities.

In some cases where the enhancement does not effect actual content, say a print page button, leaving the choice of enhancement up to the browser capabilities is fine. As weather the print function is supported or not, the same message is given, just in a slightly different way. Without support the message may say "print this page for your reference" and if the print function is supported it may show a print button saying "print now for your reference".

KIS and navigation

Your navigation is how people find things they are interested in on your site. If it is different on every page or is very complicated to follow, people will get confused and probably go else where.

There was a myth about a three click rule, that implied you must be able to get all content on your site in no more than three clicks. This generated a flux of mouse controlled multi-level navigation menus with hundreds of links on every page. This style of navigation cause many people great difficulties with using them and getting around web pages. There have been some improvements to this kind of navigation in recent times but I still say "do you really need them?"

Remember, you can place links in many places not just a single complicated multi-layered navigation system. You can use a site map page, keyword search box, aside sections and links within your content, footer or where ever it is most appropriate. The key thing is to make sure they are relevant.

KIS and your content

The web is still an evolving communication media with a fast growth and rapid rate of change. People are still adjusting from the changes from printed media and the web. Social media sites are also impacting our perception of how we use the internet.

Although you can still learn from print publishers way of writing content, using short concise headings, short introductory paragraphs and good use of plain language. There are a few tools designed to try and measure the level of ease of reading such as Flesch reading test and Gunning Fog index.

One thing to ask yourself when writing content, is it what your audience want and will enjoy? Remember people may be viewing your web page on any number of devices in all kinds of places, so bare this in mind.

So to summarise KIS

  • Always try to ensure your key content and basic functionality can work with just HTML. This ensures a strong foundation in which to build upon.
  • When introducing enhancements check they are supported and if it impacts content, give people the freedom of choice. This ensures things don’t brake on older tech and empowers people with a choice that best suits them.
  • Keep your navigation simple and relevant. Place links in the most appropriate section of your page and avoid over loading the page with hundreds of links. People enjoy an easy life, so help by making it easy for them.
  • Ensure your content is easy to read, concise and gives a structure of headings and short introductions to help people quickly find their points of interest.

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