Accessible websites start with a solid foundation

icing the cakeIs it possible to build an accessible website with beautiful graphics, cool JavaScript widgets and fancy forms? Sure, but it’s a real challenge if you don’t start with a solid foundation.

A robust website starts with a bare-bones website stripped of it’s bells and whistles. It’s a website that is not only accessible to folks who rely on assistive technologies to navigate the web but also to visitors that access it on a mobile device, antiquated hand-me-down computer system or over a dreadfully slow dial-up connection. Enter the idea of progressive enhancement.

Progressive enhancement, a phrase coined by Steven Champeon in 2003, places the emphasis on the website content, the real reason why we all use the internet. By starting with the fundamentals of the site, a web developer can ensure that the site is open to as many people as possible. It’s a lot like baking a great cake – you need to know how to read a recipe, measure the ingredients and follow the steps to the perfect cake. Until you’ve got that cake you can’t put the icing on or decorate it.

Once the foundation of a site is built with well-structured, semantic HTML, a developer can start to add layers – CSS, graphics, AJAX, etc. And, that well-structured, semantic HTML is also what makes life easier for someone who relies on a screen-reader to enjoy the content of a website.

So, get back to the basics. Next time you set out to build a website, forget the CSS, JavaScript and the likes. Build a solid HTML version and then have fun putting the icing on the cake!