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Re: Making Intranets accessible


From: Terence de Giere
Date: Jan 31, 2003 10:45AM

Intranets can be very unruly if there are no company standards. It is
normally necessary to have wide support from the CEO on down to create a
usable and accessible intranet. A standards committee with *authority*
to implement the changes and a company wide standards manual that
documents the user interface, its functionality and level of
accessibility in detail needs to be created, as well as a system for
testing and approving pages.

In particular an efficient site wide navigation scheme needs to be
worked out on the basis of how users need to use their company's data
and processes rather than splitting up the navigation department by
department. The internal business processes of the company need to be
transparent to the user of the intranet, rather than something they have
to discover by trial and error. Accessibility and usability need to be
considered together.

I once worked at a company that had a very diverse intranet. Each
department was different. Some departments had sites that used frames.
It was possible to access the home page of the intranet inside the
framed pages of some departments, kind of like looking into a mirror
that has the reflections of a mirror on the opposite wall, creating an
infinity of reflections. This kind of navigational problem, confusing
enough for a normal user would be nearly impossible for an unsighted
user to figure out. The intranet home page was graphics heavy. Users
accessing the site using a modem dialing into the company needed about
three minutes to load the home page.

If a company is using a content management system, this could ultimately
could enforce many of the requirements. If there is no content
management system software, then more human oversight is needed to
assure conformance. The software environment for creating Web pages is
particularly important for maintaining accessibility because there are
still so many tools available that sabotage accessibility, or require
exceptional knowledge on the part of ordinary users to achieve
accessible pages.

The purpose of an intranet is to support the company's business
processes; it is not a public site, so wasting time on fancy graphics
and other unneeded complexities becomes a financial liability. It should
be fast and efficient. A simple functional design, without much
graphical frill will be easier to maintain. Adding accessibility will
automatically provide many of these benefits, and make the site more
adaptable and usable for newer technologies such as wireless small
devices, etc.

Unlike the Internet, an intranet may offer more flexibility for
implementing accessibility because up to a point, software, hardware,
peripherals, and training can be controlled. Thus certain features of
Web pages, for example, particular kinds of client side scripting, which
are inaccessible to some technology might be fully supported in a
particular environment and may not require alternatives that would be
necessary on the Internet at large.

Another benefit of accessibility is backward compatibility. Companies
cannot afford, especially in these times, to have the latest and
greatest resources, and may need to use their existing equipment and
software for some time without upgrading. Accessible web pages can more
likely be accessed by a much wider range of software and hardware, by
small or large screens, by slower older computers, over slow connections

Terence de Giere


Glenda Watson Hyatt wrote:

I am writing an article on making Intranets accessible: why it is
important and how to do it? Of course, the benefits to business for
making Internet sites accessible would differ from benefits related to
accessible Intranets. Does anyone know of any resources that present
compelling rationale? For example, how do you convince an employer to
spend the money for retrofitting that will benefit only a limited number
of employees? Uttering the word 'lawsuit' does not count.

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