Web Standards, Browsers and Users

One issue that is guaranteed to get me frustrated and annoyed is problems with web sites that don’t work either because they have been designed to work with specific browsers, or assume a certain screen size, or fail to take account of users that may have visual disabilities.  This is becoming a more pressing issue as in the UK (and presumably many other countries), more and more of one’s every day tasks have to be conducted on line.

I recently had an appeal for help from a friend who has been applying for jobs, but many employers only allow online applications and she was having problems because the form would not submit from her computer or would produce errors that were unhelpful and puzzling to her.  I’ve had similar problems in the past with sites that refuse to work with anything other than Internet Explorer (which is useless for anyone using a Mac, a Linux system or any tablet), or sites that have been designed in a way where I’ve been unable to get to certain items on drop down lists because there is no way of scrolling the list on my screen.  While in some ways things have got better over the past few years because of the existence of devices like the iPad, a move to standards, and the greater prevalence of Mac computers, problems still arise.   Given the push for many government services to be delivered online, the very people who often need to access those services are often the least likely to have a computer, or have to use a computer at a library where there may be a fairly restrictive firewall, or have only a very old computer running an old operating system and browser.

Another problem that can often arise is that many people now only use web based e-mail and have never set up a mail client (or use a machine in a library where there will not be a mail client set up), but links on web sites for e-mail will try to load a mail client and then the user gets confused.

All of this is even more complicated for those people with vision problems who may be using a screen reader (that is absolutely not going to cope with a complex layout) and even those of us who are partially colour blind can often be at a complete loss on some sites where the colour either makes the screen unreadable or where the instructions are to press a particular coloured button but which we can’t identify.

I remember a news item from a few years ago where even accessing a bank system via a screen reader was enough to set off security alarms.

There is a lot that needs to be done for accessibility and much more care needs to be taken by governments and corporations in their web site development, particularly thinking about how their site is going to work when used by those who are not comfortable with computers, or with disabilities or who are using old software or assistive technologies.

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