Adobe Dreamweaver CS4 And Accessible Web Sites

Accessibility, in the context of websites, refers to the degree to which the content you add to your web site can be accessed by your audience; all of them, not just the able bodied ones and those with 20/20 vision. Accessible websites offer good support for screen readers, cater for users who browse the web without viewing graphics and who wish to magnify the text on your pages to a level comfortable for their eyesight.

Dreamweaver has a number of features which enable web developers to ensure that content on their pages Is accessible. There are useful dialogs which appear automatically when content added to a page can be made accessible. Dreamweaver also allows web page creators to check their pages for any accessibility issues.

When you install Adobe Dreamweaver, there are a couple of program settings which relate to accessibility which you should ensure remain activated. To check that these settings are active, you should choose Preferences in the Edit menu then click on the Accessibility category on the left of the screen. Make sure that the options Show Attributes For… Form objects, Media and Graphics are all switched on. Also, click on the General category and activate Use CSS instead of HTML tags.

The result of activating these elements is that when you apply formatting attributes to text or to the body of the page, Dreamweaver will create CSS tags to achieve the formatting since CSS makes web pages more accessible by separating formatting information from the actual page content. Another consequence will be that, each time you add certain elements to a page, a dialog will appear prompting you to choose which of the relevant accessibility attributes you wish to associate with that element.

Thus, whenever you add an image to a page, a dialog will appear prompting you for alternate (alt) text. This attribute makes images more accessible by providing a description of the images to users accessing the web with a slow connection as they wait for the image to load or who have disabled the display of images. The alt text will also be spoken by the screen readers commonly used by web surfers with impaired vision.

Dreamweaver will also prompt for the insertion of a link pointing to a long description of an image. This option should be used for complex images whose content cannot be adequately described in the brief alt text attribute. Examples of such images would be charts, diagrams, paintings or photos containing groups of people.

When the accessibility options relating to forms are active, Dreamweaver will display a dialog of options every time a form or form element is added to the page. The first set of options relates to the addition of the LABEL tag which serves to associate descriptive text labels with the form control to which they relate. The dialog also allows you to specify the order in which elements will be accessed by pressing the Tab key on the keyboard.

When a media element, such as a Flash movie, video or sound clip is inserted on a page, Dreamweaver will prompt the user to enter a title, access key and tab index. The title provides information regarding the media element in much the same way as alt text does for images. Access key offers users who find use of the mouse difficult an alternative method of accessing the media element using a keyboard shortcut. The tab index allows the creator of the page to specify the order in which elements on the page can be activated by using the Tab key.

As well as these useful prompts, Dreamweaver will also produce a report of any items on the page with possible issues relating to accessibility. To access this feature, first save the page then choose File – Check Page – Accessibility. Dreamweaver analyses the page then produces a list of items which might need attention. Double-clicking any item in the list activates Dreamweavers split screen view (showing both code and preview) with the relevant item highlighted in each pane.

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