W3C Web Standards
An integral part of conforming to the W3C Accessibility Guidelines is the adherence to W3C Web Standards in the design and coding of all web pages on hertsdirect.org.
By designing to Web Standards, the informational content of web pages becomes accessible to many more people, irrespective of their physical ability or the Internet browsing device that they may be using.
What are Web Standards?
Web page content is coded, or marked-up, using HTML (HyperText Markup Language).
This HTML mark-up defines, for example, which parts of the content are headings, where the paragraph or line-breaks should go, which parts are clickable links etc.
Traditionally, it has also specified how this content should look, by specifying properties such as font size and colour for the different parts of the page, background colours, widths of various components etc.
By adopting W3C Web Standards, we break from this tradition and use only semantic HTML mark-up. (In fact, we use XHTML i.e. eXtensible HTML, which is just HTML coded to a more strict standard).
Semantic XHTML means that the mark-up only defines what each part of the content is, not how it should look.
That is, the mark-up identifies which elements in the content are headings, paragraphs, links, list items etc. It does not specify what these elements should look like, nor how and where they will be positioned on the page.
The look, or style of the various parts of the page content, including how and where they will be positioned on the page, is kept separate from the content itself, and specified instead within Cascading Style Sheets (abbreviated CSS).
Traditionally, the layout and positioning of content on a web page has been controlled by embedding HTML table tags within the content. This has been a convenient way of arranging the page into columns and blocks, and the majority of pages on the world-wide web still use this method.
However, one of the problems with this method is that the resultant content is only best suited for viewing on a particular Internet browser device, such as a desk or laptop PC.
By adopting Web Standards, content containing simple semantic XHTML mark-up can be made available for access
from any Internet enabled device. Additionally, CSS stylesheets can be tailored to each of these different devices.
We do this by having a stylesheet which specifies how hertsdirect should appear when viewed on a normal modern PC desktop browser, we have other stylesheets which specify how it should look if viewed from handheld PDA or mobile phone device, or screen-reader for vision impaired users, and also how the page will appear when printed out.
If you are viewing this page on a modern desktop PC, the lay-out of the content is in three columns, with a heading area across the top of the page. The left side column contains the main menu links, the right side column has links leading to related pages, and the main page informational content appears in the centre column area.
The header graphics, font sizes and colours, background colours and rounded corners on the menus, and the 3-column layout itself, are all specified in a CSS stylesheet - it is not part of the actual information content.
If you are viewing this page from a handheld PDA or mobile phone, the content is displayed in a linear single column layout. This is because the 3-column desktop layout would be too wide for a small screen device, requiring constant left and right scrolling.
The important underlying principle is that the content itself is the same in all cases. The different devices
just apply the appropriate layout and look as specified in the stylesheet that applies to them.
Even on older browsers or text-only devices that may not react to these more modern CSS stylesheets, the content is still fully readable and usable. It may not have the same colourful backgrounds and heading graphics etc., but it will be fully usable none the less.
This is the fundamental principle behind the use of Web Standards.
The following W3C reference links lay down the content mark-up and styling standards that hertsdirect has adopted, and that the web as a whole is moving towards :