Accessibility - Avoiding the Retrofit

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Accessibility is another scary word for many people, often associated with high costs and strange tags. But having worked with it the past few years, I think the real problem isn't making your products accessible in the beginning. The real problem is RETROFITTING it.

I've had to retrofit accessibility, and I know what a colossal, time-consuming pain it is. But if you build it from scratch, it's almost seamless - just a matter of adding some descriptions at the right time. Here are two examples of how can spare yourself some grief by adding in accessibility up front.

ALT TAG

The ALT TAG (or attribute) is the code that describes your image in words for a screen reader. It's also what appears if your image doesn't download correctly (so non-screen readers can benefit from this tag as well).

If you retrofit, you have find all your images on all your pages and insert ALT tags. If you have a large Website, you will be spending a lot of time hunting, updating and maybe even asking "what is this anyway?" You probably will be looking at the HTML code to match images and alt tags. It will take several hours if not days to do it all. There will be cursing involved.

If you do it from scratch, you just add an ALT tag every time you insert an image. If you use Dreamweaver or other accessible aware development system, it even prompts you for an ALT tag when you insert an image! It's just an other 30 seconds per image, and you usually remember what text to add.

The same is true for creating accessible tables and forms. Adding the correct tags at the beginning during development is much less of a burden than putting them all in later.

TRANSCRIPTS

Great audio will usually require a great transcript or caption. And some people (like me) may actually prefer the transcript if 1) their audio is buggy or 2) they read faster than they listen. There are some tricks to getting one without hiring a part-time temp.

The key is to write out what you want to say beforehand. If you're doing a solo podcast, voice-over, role play or audio for a Powerpoint, you can save yourself a lot of grief if you write down what you plan to say first. Not only does it give you a transcript, but it will make recording your audio much smoother.

There are times when you can't pre-transcribe - especially if you want to capture spur-of-the-moment interviews or reactions, but if you prescript everything else, your transcription crunch will probably be reduced.

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