Did you know that nearly 20 percent of all Web users have some
form of disability?
"Making your site accessible for all is a matter of courtesy,
is good business practice, and is not difficult," explains Robert Roberts, a
professional SEO who owns the SEO
In fact, Roberts believes that Web accessibility issues are so
important that he's been having monthly chat sessions on the subject for
students at the Academy
of Web Specialists. He's also created a special section of his Web site
that's devoted to
Roberts states that disabilities can be anything from "simple"
color blindness to more severe disabilities.
The Use of Alt Text to Solve Accessibility Issues
"Let's start with image alt tags. You can use the alt tag to
your advantage, not just for SEO purposes. The alt description tells those
users with assistive technologies what the image is about.
"There is the issue of lots of clear images meant to be used
as spacers in layouts. Should you use an alt tag for every one of those? Yes,
in a sense, you use what's called the Null Alt, meaning an empty alt tag, like
this: alt="". Notice that there is no space between the quotes, which means
that assistive devices will bypass the image and not try to explain it. But if
you don't use it, assistive devices will show a blank where the image would be
or cause other display issues.
"The alt tag for navigation images is critical. Actually, you
should use text navigation wherever possible, as good SEO's, but there are
times when the layout uses buttons, which brings up another issue - that of
navigation preceding content."
Solving the Problem of Navigation Preceding Content
Roberts continues, "When a person using an assistive device
opens a Web page, he or she is usually greeted by lots of navigation before
getting to the content. Furthermore, an assistive device like a screen reader
will read ALL of the navigation every single time. One solution is to include a
"skip navigation" link that allows the person to jump to the page content. This
can be in the form of a tiny hidden clear image linked to an anchor tag.
"If you would like to see an example, take a look at the
source code for any page at SEO
Toolbox. The logo at the top of the page is linked to the menu, because the
menu markup is actually at the bottom of the HTML code. You would be able to
use this strategy with any assistive device or in a text browser like Lynx."
Why Accessibility Issues Are So Important These
"One of the reasons all of this is so important," says
Roberts, "is because of a lawsuit in progress that looks like it may get to the
Supreme Court. A blind man in Florida is suing Southwest Airlines because he is
unable to complete normal transactions on their Web site."
By means of explanation, the Americans with Disabilities Act
provides provisions on the accessibility of public accommodations to the
disabled, and this is the Act that is being referenced in the case.
The plaintiffs in the case claim that Congress wrote the ADA so
broadly that the Internet is covered, meaning that it 'applies to Internet Web
sites just as it does to brick-and-mortar facilities like movie theaters and
The defendants (Southwest Airlines and American Airlines) have
taken the position that Congress never meant to include the Internet, because
cyberspace was in its infancy at the time the law was written. So, the argument
is whether a Web site is a 'public accommodation' under Title III of the ADA.
"But," continues Roberts, "there is a precedent that will
surely influence the outcome. In Australia, a similar suit was brought a couple
of years ago by a blind person against the Olympic Committee because he could
not get tickets online. The suit resulted in a win for him: a $20,000 damage
"What all this means is that sooner or later, any Internet
site offering goods and services will have to comply with accessibility
section, he's placed a link to the lawsuit, if you'd like to learn more.
What if you have an image that conveys information, such as a
pie chart, graph, or schedule? A simple alt tag description isn't sufficient to
convey that information adequately. Roberts explains a work-around for this
"There are a couple of things you can do, with one being right
in the tag itself: you can use the 'longdesc' element. The longdesc is actually
a link to another page where you can lay out the information in text format.
"Here is a sample tag:
<IMG src="chart.gif" width="66" height="66" border="0"
alt="food sales for 2000" longdesc="sales2000.html">
"The problem with the longdesc attribute is that it is not
widely supported by assistive technology. As a result, an alternative
convention is suggested, using a D-Link. This is a text link placed immediately
after the image. It is a link to the same descriptive page contained in the
longdesc attribute. This way, you are sure that it can't be missed."
Here's an example using the D-Link:
<img src="graphics/chimpgraph.gif" width="494" height="253"
alt="Graph of Number of Chimps in Asia by Location"
title="Description of Asia Chimp Location Graph">D</a>
Some Accessibility Solutions Are Actually Beneficial from
an SEO Standpoint
Since Search Engine Marketers often use alt text as an extra
spot to place keywords, can it still be used in that manner?
"Bear in mind that it should not be only for keywords, because
it really is an assistive aid. What I've done is something like this: 'keyword
keyword - link to description page'," explains Roberts.
Roberts continues, "A link to a more informative text
explanation of a pie chart or whatever can only add to search engine relevancy
because you can make the additional page focus on a keyword. Accessibility also
applies to things like WAP, handheld devices, and telephonic devices.
"People need to see what your information is and how to get to
it. The matter of tables is important not only because of accessibility but
because it will actually be easier for search engines to get around in them.
There is a brief example of this on the regular SEO Toolbox site:
There is more complete information, with two examples, at:
"After all," Roberts continues, "which do you think will be
better for relevancy? If a spider must wade through yards of code before
getting to your content, or if the spider can see your content first thing? The
answer is pretty obvious."
If you aren't using Lynx,
Roberts recommends adding it as part of your Web development arsenal for seeing
how your pages look in a variety of browsers.
Lynx is a free, predominately text-based browser that will give
you an idea of how those with disabilities view your site. Many Web visitors
For More Information
According to Roberts, one of the best books on the topic of
accessibility is Constructing Accessible Web Sites by Jim Thatcher. The
book just hit the shelves and covers what you need to know in an efficient,
And, be sure to keep a close watch on Robert's
section of the SEO Toolbox. He'll be adding more information to the section
as he conducts chat sessions at the Academy.
Academy students can attend any of Roberts' upcoming chats, or
even if you're not an Academy student, you can read the transcripts afterward
at the Chat Index
Who is Robert Roberts?
Mr. Roberts, a San Francisco resident, is a former concert
pianist turned artist turned computer jockey. He has had numerous 1-man art
shows, and is a respected tattoo artist, working by appointment only. He
operates his own freelance graphics business, now focusing primarily on web
development. His self- taught computer skills include design, information
architecture, search engine marketing and PHP dynamic and database-driven
website construction. http://www.seotoolbox.com