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A barrier-free Web

Horton's new book addresses "universal usability"

"I want to do things that are useful and that will make people's lives easier or better," said Sarah Horton, Instructional Technology Specialist in Academic Computing. Since 1996, Horton has helped Dartmouth faculty make better use of information technologies, including the Web, in their teaching and learning. Horton is also the author of three highly regarded books about Web design, the most recent of which is Access by Design: A Guide to Universal Usability for Web Designers (New Riders Press, 2005).

Sarah Horton
Sarah Horton (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

"Access by Design offers design tips to create universally accessible Web pages," she said. "Web designers should not only consider the content of their sites, but also the additional needs users may have. Not just people with physical or cognitive disabilities, but also, for example, users working with slow modems or accessing the Web on the small screen of a cell phone. With good design, each visitor to a Web site should be able to have essentially the same experience."

A principle called "universal design" is a key element of Horton's book. "The basic goal of universal design is to integrate into an initial design all of the elements necessary to make a space, product or environment usable and navigable by everyone, without the need for adaptation or specialized design."

Tips in the book include ways to improve keyboard accessibility, flexible layouts and user-controlled environments, images, tables, frames and links.

Horton's own research into the subject "began years ago when I was asked to lecture on Web accessibility at a conference. I didn't know anything about it at the time, but the invitation gave me a great incentive to learn," she said.

Horton later participated in Dartmouth's Web Access Group (WAG), a cross-institutional committee dedicated to making Dartmouth's Web sites accessible to people with disabilities. In 2002, WAG produced a booklet called "Working Toward an Accessible Dartmouth Web" that was distributed to all faculty and staff. Universal design was the focus of the booklet.

"My work on WAG informed the writing of Access by Design in a significant way," said Horton. "Good design principles benefit all users of the Web. The book gives people who are starting out a good foundation to make a Web page anybody will be able to use and enjoy."

By JOEL AALBERTS

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Last Updated: 12/17/08