Too often in our plight to design beautiful, engaging websites, we overlook the unique abilities and disabilities of our users. Sure, we know their demographics, their wants, their desires and maybe even their top tasks. But do we really design with their abilities in mind? Unfortunately, probably not as much as we should; and maybe not as much as we are required to by law.
A great resource for anyone designing websites or having an integral part in maintaining sites is Design Accessible Web Sites: Thirty-six Keys to Creating Content for All Audiences and Platforms, a book by Jeremy J. Sydik, published by The Pragmatic Bookshelf.
The book is simple and straight-forward and outlines precisely how and why accessible sites are important and how to go about implementing efforts to make them accessible. The first three chapters are key, as they introduce concepts of accessibility and discuss the various impairments users may have. From then on the reader can feel free to jump around as needed.
The book is organized much like the foundation of a house; it lays the foundation -- understanding accessibility -- and then builds the framework, including user interface, content management, software development. The remainder is spent filling-in the gaps, covering topics such as Flash, images and colors.
The book intentionally avoids the nitty gritty details of WC3 guidelines and rather lets the reader discover that making accessible sites need not be an ugly mandate, but rather a very humanistic approach to design. After all, no matter our ability, we all want a positive experience on the Web.
For those of you who, of course want the guidelines, they are there, but they are certainly not what the book is built around. The book proves to be a worthwhile read and provides many "a-ha!" moments. Most importantly, it dispels the myth that websites must be ugly to be useful. However, do read this book before you pick your color palette. If anything, Design Accessible Web Sites reminds the designer to view the site from the perspective of ALL their users. And that's a suggestion we can heartily endorse.