Georgia Tech Research Institute
 

What types of technical problems might I encounter when developing an accessible website?

One major problem that is frequently encountered when developing an accessible website is really a general problem when developing any website. No current browser completely and correctly implements the HTML and CSS standards published by the W3C. This can lead to a lot of frustration when trying to implement a website that looks the same in multiple browsers, and can also limit the implementation options available to developers. For example, the min-width property, which allows you to set a minimum width for a page element, is supported in Mozilla-based browsers, but is not supported at all in Internet Explorer version 6 or earlier. Therefore, a page implementation that requires use of the min-width property will not render correctly in Internet Explorer, and if you want to support users of that browser, an alternate implementation will have to be used. The following page provides a good overview of the CSS implementation in various browser layout engines: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_layout_engines_(CSS).

Screen readers can also interpret web pages in unexpected ways, and designing a page that works correctly in a screen reader can be as challenging as designing a page that works correctly across multiple web browsers. For example, you may have a page with elements whose meaning is clear to sighted users, but you may want to clarify the meaning of those elements for users who are blind. This can be accomplished by adding invisible text that will not be displayed by a web browser but will be read by a screen reader. However, depending on the method used to make the text invisible, certain screen readers may ignore the text.

The Section 508 standards that apply to websites are somewhat subject to interpretation. Different people frequently have different ideas about exactly what steps must be taken to comply with the Section 508 standards, so you may receive conflicting guidance on what needs to be done to make your site accessible. The Trace Center sponsors a popular discussion list that focuses on Section 508 issues, and these discussions can be quite lively and educational but not necessarily authoritative. Although there is no guarantee that the answers are accurate, you may get a better understanding of the areas of controversy. To subscribe to the SEC508 discussion list, go to http://trace.wisc.edu:8080/mailarchive/sec508/.