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Internet speed and web accessibility

It's not just snails that are slow

According to a report conducted by the Office for National Statistics, 16.5m UK households had broadband access in August 2009, which was an increase from 6.6m in 2006. This is great news for web designers and web application developers who need to deliver a top quality experience to their end users without compromising too much on functionality. However, it doesn't mean they should forget about users with a slow internet connection.

Internet speed is an accessibility issue

The age-old issue of making a web site or web application accessible to everyone is still a big challenge today, especially when it comes to internet speed. Designers and developers understandably want to provide slick and user-friendly experiences but this often means using web technologies that require a fast internet connection, like video or JavaScript-powered applications. It would be very easy to ignore a potentially large share of the market by not considering users on devices with slow connection speeds (like the iPad and other wireless technologies) or users in developing countries who are faced with geographic limitations.

How to cater for people with low bandwidth connections

  1. Make sure you add alternative text to images, multimedia and other non-text objects. Doing this means people with low bandwidth connections, who may have disabled images and other media, can still understand the meaning of your content.
  2. Keep content separate from presentation. In other words, use style sheets to decrease file size and increase download speed. This includes avoiding inline style where possible.
  3. Cache pages on your site which don't change very often. This includes caching small sections of your site like the document footer or navigation.
  4. Consider making an alternative lightweight version of your site that can be used for all low-bandwidth users (call it a mobile site if you like).

Don't forget, websites should work for everyone

Take a leaf out of Facebook's book. In September 2009 they launched a lightweight version of their popular social site, calling Facebook Lite. It illustrates perfectly how inclusion is possible, for even the most demanding web applications.

UPDATE: the Facebook Lite service has been closed down, for various reasons including lack of interest, lack of awareness and lack of income. More details on the BBC site.

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Originally posted on Saturday 26th September 2009. Last updated Monday 1st February 2016.