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A site is accessible to the extent that different categories of user can make use of it. Users might be prevented from using a Web resource by a disability such as colour-blindness or motor impairment, by the type of equipment they are using (for example, a palmtop rather than desktop computer) or even by having a slow modem, which effectively rules out downloading large files. A guide entitled 'Web accessibility issues for higher and further education' (EDNER Project, 2002b) lists the categories of user for whom there might be access problems. Accessibility has become a more important issue in the UK with the advent of legislation (the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001) that compels universities to give disabled students the same access to online resources as is given to other students.
A truly accessible page is readable in unusual contexts, such as on audio browsers and palmtop computers. The good news is that the simpler and more structured the pages you create, the more likely they are to be accessible.
The bad news about accessibility is that the more adventurous you are in terms of putting interactive or audio-visual material online, the more work you have to do to make it accessible. If you have audio lectures, your site discriminates against deaf students unless you also supply a transcript, or at least a summary that would help them decide whether to use a transcription service.
Remember that a student with the wrong software is, in effect, a disabled student. If a certain piece of content such as an online video is crucial for an assignment, you need to check that the appropriate plug-in exists and is installed on students' computers, or is available for them to install.
The Making Connections Unit has many specific articles on accessibility issues. Poulter (1999) is an overview article. An additional central resource on the accessibility of Web resources, giving many simple tips, is the Web Accessibility Initiative (2003).
3.1 Linking to external sites
3.3 Intellectual property rights