Web-based Help Systems that Support Accessibility

Web Accessibility Initiative

Ian Jacobs

This presentation available at:

Slides, but not demo, available in a single HTML file and six-to-a-page in PDF.


I-a: The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)

Check out WAI resources.

I-b: Who benefits?

"How People with Disabilities Use the Web" explains characteristics of disabilities, provides scenarios, explains assistive technologies.

For statistics (U.S.), refer to "Falling through the Net: Toward Digital Inclusion" (from NITA)

I-c: Cross-disability strategies

Challenge of producing guidelines to address different needs. Some users:

Note: Plain text help content is not the best solution.

I-d: Accessibility guidelines model

I-e: Accessibility guidelines model diagram

WAI model: authors, proxies, users

I-f: Example of who does what

User need: Users need to know what level they are at in a nested list.

Nested table of contents. No way to tell what level of nesting from content alone. Using structural markup allows assistive technologies to add Level 1, Level 2, etc.

I-g: Example of who does what (continued)

In documentation, explain how end users can promote accessibility (e.g., how to use an authoring tool to create accessible content).

I-i: Why accessible help content?

Excerpt from Section 508 final rule, effective 20 February 2001 in the US:

Section 508 requires that when Federal agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, they shall ensure that the electronic and information technology allows Federal employees with disabilities to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access to and use of information and data by Federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency.

II-a: Accessibility topics to include in help content

For example, in the help content for the hypothetical "CoolEditor":

II-b: Guidelines for accessible help content

Create content that conforms to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0. Refer also to Microsoft documentation on making Help more accessible.

For instance:

II-c: Guidelines for accessible help content

II-d: Guidelines for accessible help content

Use formats that support accessibility.

II-e: Example of a glossary

Divide content into sensible pieces (here, a-to-z).

Glossary of terms showing a-to-z navigation bar

III-a: Fix this site!

While fictional, this page accurately illustrates common practices.

III-b Fix 1: Ensure scripts are accessible

Make other scripts accessible:

 <a href="javascript:popout('miles')" 
      <img src="blood.gif" 
           alt="earn miles - donate blood">


 <a href="miles" target="_blank" 
      <img src="blood.gif" 
           alt="earn miles - donate blood">

Related WCAG 1.0 checkpoints: 6.3 and 6.4.

III-c Fix 2: Provide equivalent alternatives

Since text can be rendered visually, as speech, or as braille it helps many users.

In HTML, provide short functional equivalent text with the "alt" attribute:

 <img ... alt="Navigation Bar..." >
 <area .. alt="More Articles" >

Provide content for applets:

 <applet code="Lake.class">
     <param name="image" content="lh.gif">
     <img src="lh.gif" alt="Latest News">

Provide long descriptions for complex content (charts, graphs, etc.)

Related WCAG 1.0 checkpoints: 1.1 and 6.3. ATAG 1.0 checkpoints: 3.1, 3.3, 3.5.

III-d Fix 3: Make frames accessible

Warning: It's easy to use frames in a way that causes usability problems. Advance with caution.

To provide navigation alternatives, assign titles to frames and add a "noframes" alternative:

 <frame ... name="TOC"
             title="Table of Contents" >
  <frame ... name="Home"
             title="Home Page" > 
      <p><a href="a">
         <img src="vnav.gif" border=0 usemap="#map" 
              alt="Navigation Bar..."></a>

Related WCAG 1.0 checkpoint: 12.1.

III-e Fix 4: Specify colors appropriately

So, in HTML:

<body background=bg.gif>


<body background="bg.gif" 
       bgcolor="#8e0851" text="white"
       link="3fa" vlink="5f5">

Related WCAG 1.0 checkpoints: 2.2.

III-f Fix 5: Use meaningful link text

To provide information about link targets to users who surf link text only, write:

<a href="a">
    Coping With Asthma's Relentless Attacks</a>

instead of:

Coping With Asthma's Relentless 
  Attacks:<a href="a">Click Here</a>

Related WCAG 1.0 checkpoint: 13.1.

III-g Fix 6: Add structure

To convey a logical model other than visually, use markup correctly. For example:

  <b>9 May 1999</b> <img src="l1.gif">


<h1>9 May 1999 
      <img src="l1.gif" alt="Latest News"></h1>

Related WCAG 1.0 checkpoints: 3.5 and 3.6. ATAG 1.0 checkpoint: 3.2.

III-h Fix 7: Use style sheets

Related WCAG 1.0 checkpoints: 3.1 and 3.3.

IV-a: Guidelines for an accessible user interface

For more information, refer to the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG)1.0.

Design for space independence:

IV-b: Guidelines for an accessible user interface

Design for device independence:

Design for time independence:

IV-c: Guidelines for an accessible user interface

Allow configuration, control, and override:

Follow operating environment conventions:

IV-d: Example of problematic interface

Selecting a glossary entry causes window to pop-up with definition. This window is initially part of the window list, conventionally reached using Alt-tab. But when you press any key, the window closes.

Selecting a glossary term causes a transient window to appear that cannot be reached using conventional access to windows list.

V-a: What tools do you use to author help?

According to the Winwriters Skills and Technologies Survey on Tools (2000), top tools in use are:

  1. Microsoft Word: "Save as HTML".
  2. Notepad: Create HTML (or other formats) by hand.
  3. RoboHelp HTML: Interactive Help authoring tool.
  4. Paint Shop Pro: Accessible graphics

V-b: Guidelines for accessible help authoring tools

Design authoring tools that conform to the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 1.0.

V-c: Guidelines for accessible help authoring tools

V-d: Validation and repair tools

Questions and discussion