Just as many people, businesses, and congregations work to make their physical facilities accessible to people with disabilities, they also strive to make their on-line presence accessible. We believe that all church facilities, including on-line sites, should be accessible and inclusive so that everyone can receive the information and inspiration that our congregations work to provide. And just as physical accessibility takes some care, and reaches beyond the obvious, so does on-line accessibility.
There are rules and procedures and coding, but accessibility is an art that requires imagination, understanding, and empathy to make it work well. One needs to anticipate problems and look a variety of possibilities. In buildings and on-line, a small mistake in one area can create a vast amount of difficulty all around. Therefore it also requires knowledge to implement properly. Persons with visual impairments cannot access many sites because they use screen readers to hear, rather than see, the site. People who are Deaf cannot hear sound clips. And those with slower connections or old browsers are often unable to view some new features or elaborate graphics.
One way to approach accessibility is to offer one version of the site that is accessible. Another, less preferred method, is to offer multiple versions of a page. One problem with this approach is that alternate versions are often not updated when the primary one is updated. It's also a lot of extra work, since most accessibility features can be incorporated into any page.
Basic standards for accessibility can be found at the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). This site is frequently updated, and readers can subscribe to an RSS feed to be notified of updates.
One problem with accessibility is that it isn't always mentioned in publications and educational materials, which often focus on the latest design, how to incorporate more “bells and whistles,” or boosting audience and sales numbers. So it will take some ongoing thought, careful questions, and — as we often advocate — practical tests with affected users to maintain inclusive practices.
When designers do think about accessibility, they often think of adding a text description where there are pictures. But accessibility for all goes far beyond that. Not everyone can use a mouse, or even a keyboard. Some people, especially those with disabilities, are limited to dial-up connections. These relatively slow connections cause problems when images are too large, and the older browsers (and computers) that some use will choke on complex instructions.
Here is a beginning list of accessible features, including those used at this site (it will continue to be expanded, and you can suggest additional points on our contact page):
A related matter is what to put on a website and where. “Welcome: 12 Church Website Tips” lists several content items relating to welcoming people with disabilities.
Some good websites and other sources that address accessibility concerns are:
Tim Vermande, March 2018