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Tips and Tricks

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Accessibility: Eyes Wide Shut

Close your eyes. Not yet. Read this first.

Have you ever walked around in the dark? How did you know where you were going? Without the sense of sight, you had to depend on your other senses to guide you through the darkness: the sense of touch to feel objects around you and the floor beneath you, the sense of sound to hear your footsteps confirming your progress towards something and your breath distancing you from oncoming wall, your sense of smell to alert you to the distinct scent of the paint on the wall you are about to bump into.

Imagine being in the dark for the rest of your life, depending on four out of five senses to guide you: sound, taste, smell, and touch. About 8 million people in America live that way. For most, they’ve never seen light or color -- ever. They do not know the difference, and yet they live functional lives: marry, have children (and manage to discipline them), work in almost every occupation, play musical instruments, and dance like no one is watching.

Their lives have improved largely by the innovations of technology. For example, walk across the street toward the Texas State Capitol, and you’ll hear a beeping sound at the crosswalks alerting blind travelers of when it is safe to be on the street and when to get on the sidewalk. If you are lucky enough to be Neil Harbisson, you can even hear color, including colors no human eye can ordinarily see.

The greatest innovations come in computer technology, however, we continue to struggle to provide blind users equal access to information on the Internet. By law, we are supposed to provide text equivalents to all non-text content. This is the first requirement listed in Section 508 Subpart B §1194.22. It is also the requirement web maintainers comply to the least.

What Cascade Server Users Should Do to Comply to Section 508 Subpart B §1194.22 (a)

Cascade Server was originally designed to require users to provide alternative text to all images, however, a recent update included a change to that design that includes a checkbox users can click on to claim an image is a "decorative image." Web Strategy created the "decorative" purple template with the gradients and shadows that are part of the aesthetic design, or non-informative content.

All content placed within that template, however, should be meaningful, not wasteful. Each non-essential image placed on the website costs load time that some mobile users and rural area users will find frustrating and discouraging. Web Strategy cannot currently disable this option and asks all Cascade users to not click on the “This is a decorative image” checkbox. Any image that fails to meet this requirement will be removed from the website.

All alternative text will be subject to review and correction. The State of Texas provides me with a report on all potentially inappropriate usage of alternative text or lack of alternative text for images deemed essential that I review regularly. Each image must have appropriate and meaningful alternative text that describes the image or the tone of the content provided in the image. Tone helps users understand the mood of the content and aids them in comprehension.

  • Do not use one- or two-word alternative text. This is not meaningful.
  • Do not use the name of the file as the alternative text. This does not provide users with ample or equal information.
  • Do not use more than a Twitter tweet number of characters (140 characters) for your alternative text.
  • Do not include words like "image of" or "this is a button" or "click here" or "link to" in your alternative text. Screen readers inform blind users of any image that provides alternative text, so this is redundant and wasteful.