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Creating Accessible Sites with IBM aDesigner

Article Description

Creating an accessible Web site, one that everyone can use, means more visits and a fatter bottom line. John Mueller walks through an easy site-creation process with IBM's aDesigner.

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A problem exists with most web sites on the Internet—they lock out anyone with any kind of special needs. Unfortunately, many developers are unaware of the problem. Those who are aware of the problem usually end up using mediocre tools that they can download free, or expensive accessibility applications that are overkill for many situations. IBM's aDesigner provides a middle ground. This tool is extremely easy to use, yet quite capable. With aDesigner, you can address most problems that crop up on web sites.

IBM used Java to create aDesigner. I recommend Java Standard Edition1.4.2 or later because the product doesn't appear to work well with older versions of Java. Be sure to install Java before you install aDesigner. Fortunately, aDesigner works on any web page and any machine that supports Java, which means that you can use this product nearly anywhere.

The Problem in a Nutshell

Accessibility problems come in many shapes and sizes. Some web sites use color combinations that people with certain types of color blindness can't see. The site might as well be invisible because the user can't see anything. Other sites are nearly impossible for people with visual needs to use. Imagine that you're blind and the web site uses nothing but graphics.

Sound and visual effects can cause many problems, too. A flashing screen graphic might look very interesting, but it's not very nice when the flash rate causes the viewer to have a seizure. That's right: It's not simply a matter of inconvenience—it's a matter of physical effects, too.

Of course, all of these problems affect someone else—or do they? Businesses often lose customers who can't use the web site. You can't make a sale when the customer can't work with your web site, no matter how bulletproof the back end of your system is or how well you've constructed the web site features. Even if the main mission of your site is to provide information to other people, that information is useless when the viewer can't see the information you're providing. The fact that the Internet is all about communication, and accessibility woes hinder communication, makes it everyone's problem. No one wins when your web page lacks accessibility features.

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