The past couple of years have been telling ones for me, in that I took on the responsibility at a new job to oversee the testing and updating of a group of stories that were the focus of an accessibility audit. By doing so, I walked into the world of Accessibility Testing and site development with Accessibility as its focus.

There are a handful of tools out there, and some books that describe what Accessibility means and things to consider when testing sites, but I was confused as to how to actually make the sites I was testing accessible in the first place. Katie Cunningham, the author of the Accessibility Handbook, felt the same way. Her goal was to make a book so that people who were programming websites would have a quick reference as to the what and the how of making sites accessible, with an emphasis on Section 508 Compliance, which is the primary standard for Accessibility in the United States. Akren stated her goal for the books  as follows:

“I decided to write a book that focused on the disabilities rather than the patches. Yes, alt text should always be used and tables should always be scoped. What’s even more important to understand is how poor alt text or tables with no scopes affect the experience of a user. Understanding a user’s tools and limitations helps developers and designers make the next generation of web applications without excluding anyone.”

So how does the “Accessibility Handbook” measure up to that stated goal?

The book breaks each chapter up into different physical challenges, and what defines those challenges as per the recommendations spelled out in Section 508. The chapter describes a set of “Annoyances” that would be present for the user without accessibility considerations, a list of tools available for the users in that capacity, and the methods used to remedy those issues.

Chapter One focuses on “Complete Blindness” and the primary tool for those who are legally or medically blind, and that is the screen reader. Utilizing a variety of tools depending on the platform to be used, this section explores how to optimize HTML and CSS to use screen readers. In addition, aspects such as WAI-ARIA tags are discussed, and aspects of how the product can be tested as well.

Chapter Two focuses on other types of Visual Accessibility, including issues related to Color Blindness and contrasting colors as well as issues dealing with low vision (where the challenges are that text is too small rather than completely unreadable.

Chapter Three deals with Audio Accessibility, which could be for those who are deaf or seriously hearing impaired.

Chapter Four focuses on physical disabilities, and alternative ways to navigate around the page.

Chapter Five deals with a variety of Cognitive Disabilities, including Dyslexia and ADD/ADHD, and how a variety of formatting options can make working with these individuals easier.

Chapter Six is about Selling accessibility to the organization.

Chapter Seven is for Additional Resources to help get the most out of developing for accessibility, including resources for information, for testing, for design, and about the various tools available for them.

Bottom Line: This is a thin book, coming in at 98 pages total, 80 pages of specific content, but don’t let its size fool you. This book will pay for itself with the first usability issues you find.  As you get better, you will be tempted to start creating unique personas for each of the areas, and by all means, do so. The process of seeing how solutions are presented, and how to make changes to those solutions, is well worth the purchase price.