universal web design

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A survey of Web accessibility and usability

The List of Test Websites

I chose forty websites to examine using the diagnostic tools I devised. These sites were not chosen to be the scapegoats and receive criticism, but rather to serve as reference points for gauging the level of accessibility currently achieved by the US web community. The websites were categorized as follows:

  1. Popular Sites (news, sports, etc.)
  2. UNC Related
  3. Search Engines
  4. Government
  5. Standards advocates (sites that promote good design)
Popular Sites
Name/URL Category Commentary
ESPN News: Sports The premier sports website on the planet. ESPN conveys such a large amount of information on each page that I suspect it will be incredibly inaccessible to users that are blind. They recently underwent a design overhaul and pretty much everything on the front page is in Shockwave, which presents some interesting challenges to screen readers.
MTV News: Music The design layout is confusing enough for sighted users, let along users that are blind. The text is small, and the graphics are overwhelming.
CNN News: General One of the most popular news websites across the world. Visual layout is nice, but I am curious about the usability of the site for users with disabilities.
Weather Channel Weather Everyone's favorite stop for weather updates. Lots of ads, lots of images -- I'm curious about how easy it is to use for those with disabilities.
FoxSports Net News: Sports Another major sports website that has a similar layout to ESPN -- image and content heavy on each page -- so it will be interesting to see which is more accessible.
America Online Business Long-standing choice for Internet service by the American populous. Hit with a lawsuit due to accessibility problems, so it will be interesting to see if they have changed their ways.
Macromedia Business Software industry giant whose invention of Flash changed the Web but created accessibility problems galore; recent versions are getting better. Dreamweaver also has perpetuated bad code, but it, too, is improving.
ABC News News: General Content-heavy news site that is similar to CNN, so they will make a good comparison.
Microsoft Business Redefined the computer world with Windows and Office, but was also part responsible for nearly ten years of browser wars that led to non-standard, proprietary code that only made accessibility worse and worse.
Netscape Business The other half of the browser wars. Responded violently with Netscape 4.5+, a browser that found its way into millions of homes; however, it lacked any logical support for code standards such as CSS, giving Web designers and accessibility proponents headaches for years.
MSN Portal A catch-all website that attempts to offer links from its front page to everything known to man.
E*Trade Financial Good example of a financial services website. Lots of data tables and charts that may provide accessibility problems if not done correctly.

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UNC-CH Related
Name/URL Category Commentary
UNC-CH Home UNC Image-based front page of the UNC Chapel Hill website which has caused a lot of complaints from users with disabilities despite the relative lack of content.
UNC Students UNC Typical page within the UNC-CH website, offering lots of alt attribute problems with its image links and server-side image maps.
Student Central Services Portal site for UNC student information processing, such as grades and registration. Contains a set of DHTML menus that give trouble to pretty much everyone.
Tar Heel Blue Sports The main UNC sports website; incredibly information-heavy site with tons of navigation links and other features that make it a suspect for accessibility problems.
Campus-Y Student Org One of the more prominent student groups on campus.
Disability Services Services Seemed like a natural place to test out accessibility since it exists to help students with disabilities.
UNC Computer Science Departments A typical UNC departmental page that uses the same troublesome image maps and rollover image buttons as the main UNC site.
UNC Libarary Catalog Services A speaker in our Comp 190 class demonstrated how he uses JAWS to search for books, and it was painful to watch because the site is so inaccessible.
UNC Dance Marathon Student Org Another prominent student group's website that I actually designed a year ago, back in the day when coding for Netscape 4.5+ was a huge priority. Then I realized that you can just hide the stylsheet and allow the Netscape users to see black and white text.
Carolina Web Servers Student Org Another site I developed for the website design organization I used to run. I imagine it will be easy to use due to its simplicity, but it is definitely not compliant.
Daily Tar Heel Student Org UNC's traditional student newspaper. Lots of content but not so much on the visual style. With this in mind, I want to examine how a user with visual impairment may be able to find out about UNC happenings.

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Search Engines
Name/URL Category Commentary
Google Search engine The world's leading search engine, but its outdated code is rumored to create accessibility problems. This is also a candidate for the search engine redesign.
Yahoo Search engine Spent a long time at the top of the Web by being the first successful search tool and directory. Outdated style (recently upgraded, but not by much) and sub-par indexing has allowed Google to take the throne.
Altavista Search engine Once my search tool of choice, so I'm just interested in seeing how it stacks up.
Lycos Search Engine Partly to round out the list. It has a much different format and objective than the other search engines listed; sort of a hybrid portal and search engine.

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Government Related
Name/URL Category Commentary
White House Executive The official website for George W. Bush. He didn't pass Section 508 (Clinton did), and he's been rather preoccupied with terrorism and war. So accessibility may not be his webmasters' top priority.
US Army Military An example of a military site, and we all know the US military (until recent years) has not had the best track record for being open to people who are "different."
House of Representatives Legislative The official site for the 108th US House of Representatives. Seemed like a reasonable candidate.
Senate Legislative The US Senate's home page seems like a tremendous waste of screen real estate. How does it look from an accessibility standpoint?
Section 508 Judicial Information site for the Section 508 amendment. As the legal arm of Web accessibility, they seemed like a necessary target for examination.
ADA Judicial The website for the Americans with Disabilities Act, the major legal force behind anti-discrimination suits.

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Web Standards Advocates
Name/URL Category Commentary
Zeldman Personal Weblog of one of the most influential individuals in the Web community. Spearheaded the Web Standards Project, which is listed below.
A List Apart Journal Articles and forums about Web design, coding standards, and other topics related to Web development.
Use It Personal The personal website of usability expert Jakob Nielson seemed like a great place to start. The visual layout is insipid but "usable," but how does it look to an individual that is blind?
Netscape DevEdge Organization Netscape Developers' Edge -- an online technology community -- recently made a landmark decision to design their new site to conform to W3C standards using all CSS and not tables for layout, causing the site to view as plain black text in older Netscape browsers. They claimed that the benefits were worth sacrificing viewability in outdated Netscape.
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Organization How could I measure accessibility without doing the originators and ongoing advocates of design standards?
WaSP Organization The Web Standards Project (WaSP) began fighting a few years ago to end the browser wars and promote standardization (i.e. mutual support of common rules) among the major browser developers.
Ibiblio Organization The "public library and digital archive." They seem to have their act together, and they have been faithful hosts for Carolina Web Servers; but is their site usable and accessible?
Universal Web Design Mine Well, I'd be a hypocrite without subjecting my site to the same tests. Hopefully it will serve as the benchmark.

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Author: Greg Lanier
This site was originally created as a course project for Comp190 Enabling Technologies, given by Professor Gary Bishop at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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