actiondan writes: "Constructing Accessible Web Sites is about how to build websites that can be used by people who rely on assistive technologies to browse the web. When I picked up this book, accessibility was an area that interested me but I am now convinced that it should be in the thoughts of every web developer. Some of the laws that are emerging to regulate accessibility look positively scary and there are lots of other good reasons to take accessibility seriously." Read on for the rest of his review.
What does the book cover?
Chapter 1 is an introduction to web accessibility. I would guess that most people who pick up this book will already know at least a little bit about accessibility, but this chapter provides a good overview and presents some compelling arguments for providing accessible websites. Interestingly, none of these is based on a moral argument -- they are all sound reasons why it is in the interests of an organization to think about accessibility. For example, one of these sections mentions that people with disabilities in the U.S. are estimated to control a discretionary income of over $175 billion. Making a site accessible to these people gives it access to an additional market that non-accessible sites cannot tap.
This first chapter sets the tone for the whole book. It doesn't preach about accessibility for the sake of people with disabilities but rather seeks to convince the reader that accessibility is in their interests.
Chapter 2 concentrates on one of the major reasons for making web sites accessible - laws that compel us to do so. It presents an overview of the state of the law in different parts of the world and a couple of examples of cases involving web usability. I have to admit I skimmed this chapter, as I wanted to get on to the technical stuff.
In Chapter 3, the book gets on to the mechanics of accessibility -- assistive technologies. It provides a short survey of the screen readers and other technologies that are available. I would have liked to have seen more information here on how widespread these systems are, even if just approximate.
Chapter 4 is where the book starts talking about the actual work involved in creating accessible content. It runs down the basics of accessibility (most of it is good practice such as using ALT text and so on). The blink tag even gets a mention and a "good for them!" is given to Opera for not supporting it :) This chapter will not be news to anyone who has done any accessibility work (or even just best-practices web development). The information on how tables are handled by screen readers is good though.
Chapter 5 looks in more detail at navigation. The advice here is good even outside of an accessibility context and there are some good points about 'gotchas' that could make sites difficult to navigate with assistive technologies.
In Chapter 6, input gets the same treatment that navigation got in the last chapter. I wasn't sure about the stuff on PDF forms (does anyone actually use these for web input?) but the advice on HTML forms was great.
Chapter 7 is about testing for section 508 (of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act) compliance. Initially, this was another chapter that I skimmed, as I am not based in the U.S., but then I realised that the testing advice in this chapter is not just useful for section 508 compliance -- it is useful for general accessibility testing.
Chapter 8 studies the accessibility of web development tools themselves. This doesn't apply to me but it was interesting to see how the tools (Dreamweaver, Frontpage, GoLive, Homesite and BBEdit) compare in terms of usability. This would have been a lot easier if there had been a summary table of the ratings given to the applications.
Chapter 9 seemed a little out of place. It is on "Separating Style from Presentation" and basically looks at CSS. I'm sure most people picking up this book will, like me, not need to be taught CSS basics. I skipped the chapter and very nearly missed an interesting little section on aural stylesheets.
I was surprised that chapter 10 was devoted to Flash, as I expected that Flash coverage in an accessibility book would be limited to a few paragraphs lambasting Macromedia for creating such an inaccessible technology. Well, it turns out that the new version of Flash supports accessibility much better than previous ones. This chapter was a real eye-opener for me. Clearly there is more work to be done but well done to Macromedia for putting accessibility support in!
Chapter 11 didn't really interest me much -- it seems to be more aimed at people who need to implement an accessibility strategy, one to hand over to managers once the technical content of the book is digested.
Chapter 12 is a bit of a heads-up on newer technologies and how they affect accessibility. There is some brief but decent discussion of how technologies such as SVG support accessibility.
The last actual chapter, Chapter 13, is a more in-depth look at U.S. web accessibility law. This was another one that I skimmed but one section did catch my eye. There is a discussion that raises the scary idea that web developers may be held liable for inaccessible web sites, even if their client told them to ignore the issue. If this is true, then it is an important point for every web developer to consider -- could you be held liable?
There are three appendices in the book; a quick reference guide summarises the most important advice given in the book, a glossary of terms and an appendix that details the U.S. Section 508 legislation.
Apart from the basic CSS coverage and the more U.S.-specific sections, I found the vast majority of the information in the book to be very interesting to me. The style was good too -- I was surprised that a book with 8 authors manages to maintain such a consistent and readable tone throughout.
Overall, I found the book a much more interesting read than I was expecting it to be. It gives specific advice about the way web sites should be constructed with accessibility in mind and offers strong arguments for following the advice.
It seems that accessibility is going to be a fact of life in web development. That being the case, every web developer needs to learn at least something about it, if only to use as ammunition in interviews. I would definitely recommend Constructing Accessible Websites as a good source of information on the area.
You can purchase Constructing Accessible Web Sites from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.